Fourteen months later and so much has changed.  The travel weary family we met at the airport on September 21, 2016, who appeared overwhelmed and cautious about their new surroundings, are now well established and engaged residents of East Toronto.  It is such a thrill to visit them these days and engage in basic conversation with them about their day to day lives and to observe the successes they have attained as they settle into life here.  But the road is long and they still face many challenges ahead.  At least now, however, they have the ESL skills and confidence to tell us directly the areas in which they still need the most help and support.

While our contractual obligations under the Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) program (namely financial and settlement support to the family for 12 months) came and went this past September, the executive members of our group decided to continue to provide financial support to the family until the end of December 2017 in order to use up the funds raised for the purpose of sponsorship.

While our financial contributions will cease after December 2017, we will, of course, continue to help out when the complexities of navigating life in urban Toronto prompt requests.  That said, our level of involvement these days is greatly reduced from the intensive involvement we had in the first 8 months or so of the relationship.

Now, the parents in this newcomer family navigate the city on public transit and are becoming more and more comfortable with using assistive technology like Google Maps, to keep them on course.  Dad has a Facebook account and will make Facebook Messenger video calls to members of the settlement team when he needs help with a specific project.  Dad is tentatively trying out e-mail and both parents were open to a demonstration on how to order their children’s school photos online just the other day.  But even this, presumably simple process for most of us, continues to present unique challenges and obstacles for our family whose English, and exposure to and comfort with technology, is still fairly limited.

That said, both parents are now in Level Two English at their local LINC school and have worked hard to achieve this.  Dad explained recently that he never learned to read in Karen making learning how to read in English even harder.  He has expressed a strong desire to work.  A call to the local employment agency representative crystalized challenges going forward.  The representative stated that, as per their funding guidelines, employment services such as job finding workshops, are not open to individuals unless they have at least a Level 4 English.

Fortunately, the parents in our family have made good connections with other Karen Canadians at the Karen Church and may be able to find employment through networks there.  Dad is hopeful he will be able to work at a window factory through the winter and do landscaping work in the summer.    Mom intends on continuing with ESL study and she informed me that now, when the children return from school and after they pick up their littlest one from daycare, they all try to speak English with each other at home to speed up their progress.

The oldest daughter moved to a new school this year and continues her studies in the LEAP program for grade six students designed to accelerate kids in their ESL acquisition.  The two boys are now in grades three and one and their mom tells me that all the kids love school and are happy to get up and go off each day.  The youngest, two-year old daughter, is thriving at her daycare.

While many challenges lay ahead for the family, they have accomplished so much, we have accomplished so much with them, and their future is wide open.  All the times that the settlement team juggled their time and commitments and responsibilities in order to help out this great family of six, has paid off in ways that are too difficult to describe in a blog update.  The privilege of being able to help and support the family in this way and all that they have given us in return has been a really rewarding experience.

This may be the last post on this site as things formally wind-down in our Wilkinson-St. David Sponsorship support.  Our sponsorship group would like to thank all those who made donations towards this endeavor and all those who gave their time and energy through fundraising, direct settlement support, attendance at meetings and general encouragement.  You are all very much appreciated and we hope that you have gained from this experience as much as the family who has benefitted from your efforts.


The Wilkinson-St. David’s Sponsorship group has had a very busy five months.  On September 21, 2016, two from our group went to Pearson International Airport to welcome a young Karen family consisting of mom, dad and four children ages 9, 7, 5 and 1 to Canada.  We brought them to their cozy, two-bedroom apartment in Toronto’s east end, where they now appear to feel quite at home.

Our responsibilities to these calm parents and their energetic kids have been steady and demanding.  Our settlement team is working well together despite the demands of life from our own families, work and other commitments. E-mail keeps the lines of communication between us all humming and the level of commitment and care that so many have shown over these months is impressive.

Our focus in supporting this family has encompassed all aspects of daily life.  Because mom and dad entered a refugee camp as children and lived there for 14 years, their experiences, knowledge, and skills were shaped by limited resources and formal education, lack of technology, inability to participate in paid work, inexperience in using and managing money, etc.  Their resilience and calm, easy going nature, however, is also likely cultivated by their experiences in the camp. The family demonstrates a desire and eagerness to learn, adapt and take advantage of the opportunities their new life in Canada can afford them and we are happy and excited to help them along and learn from them.

Every month we ensure that this family has enough money in their account to pay their rent and other bills and then we assist them with online bill payments.  We have helped them become familiar with their neighbourhood, including local shops, grocery stores, the community centre for recreational activities (where presently the two boys enjoy weekly swimming lessons and the oldest girl is participating in a weekly art class), library, schools, drug stores, parks, public transportation, bank,  and family doctor.

We continue to assist the family in getting to many medical and dental appointments and have also ensured that each family member’s vision has been tested.  There have been many specialist appointments and we continue to coordinate with medical staff to help ensure that the family’s health needs are addressed.

The boys attend JK and grade two classes and the older boy also attends ESL enrichment classes to help accelerate his acquisition of English. The oldest girl, attends a LEAP program which provides intensive ESL support to help bring her up to speed for her age and grade level more rapidly. The toddler has just been accepted for subsidized daycare and, while she currently attends a half day daycare program at her parents’ ESL school, she will soon move to a subsidized full day childcare spot.

On Monday, February 13, mom and dad graduated to full day ESL classes. They are both making strong efforts to acquire English. We have all noted that it seems they understand more than they speak but their confidence is increasing.

During the course of this past five months we had the joy of experiencing reunification of the family with mom’s mother and father and four siblings who on November 23, 2016, arrived in Canada under the same blended visa office referred refugee sponsorship program.  These relatives are being sponsored by the Church of the Redeemer settlement group and it has been a really rewarding experience also getting to know the extended family and seeing how happy they are to be reunited as well as getting to know and coordinating with the settlement team from Church of the Redeemer.

In addition to the very practical tasks and activities that we have undertaken with the family we have enjoyed many social get-togethers, including Thanksgiving Dinner, trips to the beach, going for dim sum, the zoo, the Karen Church for Christmas Eve and Karen New Year celebrations, the Science Centre, and two potlucks hosted at St. David’s.

We are only five months in and we have already shared so many rewarding and fun experiences with the family and with one another. We look forward to continuing this work and supporting the family as they adapt to their new life as Canadian citizens and benefit from the opportunities that life in Canada and in Toronto can afford to them.


After 36 hours of travel on the road and through the air, with four young children in tow, the family we are sponsoring arrived in Toronto from a refugee camp in Thailand, weary, but safe, at about 6pm on Wednesday, September 21, 2016.

This resilient family, whom we have anticipated meeting for almost a full year since our sponsorship group was first conceived, lived in their Thai refugee camp for about 10 years.  All of their four children, between the ages of 9 and 1-and-a-half-years old, were born there.

Stories I have heard about the persecution of the Karen people by the Burmese army are unfathomable compared to my privileged Canadian experience.   It was such an honour to be at the airport with Deb Shub and Karen Canadians Mie Tha Law and his father Ka Law Law to greet them and welcome them to their new home in Canada.  The parents were visibly worn out, but the children, especially the two boys, were full of energy as they broke into sprints and giggles on our way from airport Arrivals to parking.

When we finally arrived at their home, at about 7:30pm, two very gracious women from the Karen Canadian community in Toronto cooked up a delicious, traditional Karen meal which we all enjoyed very much.  The family was obviously thrilled as they sat down and filled their tummies at their new, donated, dining table.

But before eating, while the food was cooking, the three oldest children (9, 7 and 5) enthusiastically tested out their new toys, colouring materials, and the shower!  With the bathroom door wide open, they eagerly stripped down, jumping in and out of the shower at different times, water flying in all directions, to wash up with any available bottle of soap they could get their hands on.   They all then got dressed rather efficiently for their young ages, I thought, into the fresh pjs we had laid out for them with the exception of the oldest boy who adorably opted instead to wear to bed corduroy pants that he found in one of the drawers.  I later learned that the boy loves them because pants are so scarce in the refugee camp.

Prior to departing, Ka Law Law said a blessing for the family, as they all share the same Baptist faith.  Admittedly, during this prayer, I stole a moment to look around the room at the faces of the children and their parents and felt overwhelmed and humbled as I observed them with eyes closed and hands clasped praying for what I thought must be their wish to have good fortune in their new country and protection for those they have left behind (at least this is what I imagined as I do not speak Karen S’gaw!)

We left around 9:30pm and the following day met with the family again to assist them in signing their lease and obtaining OHIP numbers.  On Friday, we were able to assist mom in seeking medical attention and treatment for the baby’s ear infection with their own OHIP and Interim Federal Health coverage.  We live in a great country!!!

Every day for the next several weeks we will be seeing the family at least once, if not twice per day, to help them learn about their new surroundings, play at the park, enroll for English classes, register the children for school, set-up a bank account and apply for a Welcome Policy at the community centre so they have the opportunity to learn how to swim, if they want to.   My gut instinct, is that they are all going to learn how to swim!


Exciting news!  We have been informed that the family of six we are sponsoring will land in Toronto on September 21, 2016.  We are ready for their arrival and would like to thank all of those who generously donated money and other gifts in kind.

We are still looking for volunteers who would like to join our team in providing direct settlement support; people with some daytime availability in particular. We anticipate there will be much required to help this family adjust and integrate successfully to life here.

A police clearance record and a two-hour AURA training are requirements for direct involvement with the family. The next AURA training is scheduled for September 12 at St. Columbus Church on St. Clair Avenue East.  Please email us at if you are interested.

While we were unable to find housing for the family within the Wilkinson school catchment area, they will be very close by and we will host a welcome event in the fall to introduce this family of new Canadians to the Wilkinson-St. David’s community and celebrate what we have been able to achieve together to make a positive difference.

Please continue to look for updates on our website regarding progress and opportunities to help this family make the transition to a new life in our East Toronto community.


refugee-clipart-refugeesCall for materials! We are ready to collect items for the family’s new home.

We are busy preparing for the arrival of the family within the next four to six weeks. Liisa Repo-Martell did a great job of gathering many of the items we need to help the family start off in their new apartment, however, there are still some things we need.

If there is anything on the list posted on our Resources Page that you would like to contribute, please contact Sarah Morris Lang at

We are moving furniture into the unit on Wednesday, August 17.  Anything you can contribute can be dropped off until 8:00 pm on Tuesday, August 16. Contact Sarah Morris Lang at for the drop off location.

For any bulky items that you cannot transport yourself, we may be able to arrange pick up on Wednesday, August 17 when we rent a moving van.

After that point, we can coordinate a later date and time for pick up or drop off.

Thank you for your support!


On Monday, August 8, AURA is offering a training exclusively for our sponsor group. Training represents one of two steps required to qualify for providing settlement support for the family.

For those who have already completed AURA training, this is an opportunity for a refresher and to ask questions specific to our sponsorship.

All are welcome but we do require your RSVP for planning purposes. The location (currently TBD) will be disclosed to all those who RSVP.

Please RSVP to


We are making great strides to prepare for the family’s arrival. Please join us on Thursday, July 28th at 7 pm for an update on our progress to prepare for the arrival of the Karen family we are expecting at the end of August, 2016. All are welcome. Please RSVP to

The meeting will help you identify how you can assist with the family’s transition to life in Canada and we will provide updates on the following:

  • Housing
  • Material donations
  • Access Alliance
  • Interpreters – language acquisition
  • Family’s arrival

Our most critical need at the moment is to grow the number of volunteers able to assist with settlement support. These individuals would visit the family and assist them with their day-to-day activities such as a grocery shop, a dental appointment or an outing to the park.

As per AURA protocols, anyone working directly with the family must obtain a police clearance letter and complete a two-hour AURA resettlement training.

  • Police clearance: Apply online and notify us at when you receive yours.
  • AURA resettlement training: The next scheduled training is September 12 and registration is open. If you have not yet completed your AURA training, please book a spot in this session as soon as possible.

We hope to see you on the 28th! The location for the meeting is the basement of St. David’s Towers at 51 Donlands Avenue.