EDMONTON, AB—It is now the middle of winter in Canada. Although this season feels like one of our warmest winters in a long time, we still face typical problems like shoveling heaps of snow, slipping on ice (and sometimes falling!), soaked socks, and runny noses.
When I was in university, I met many international and foreign exchange students who had never lived through a Canadian winter before. My favourite sarcastic question to ask them in the fall was: “Are you excited for winter?” They all anticipated the cold and snow because Canada has a reputation for it, but even knowing the temperature ranges and hearing the horror stories from friends couldn’t fully prepare them for the lived experience.
My mom arrived in Canada over 30 years ago as a refugee during the Vietnam War. In Vietnam she had heard about Canada’s intense “negative degree weather,” that it snowed through most of the year, and that having thick clothes and a roof over your head was a necessity for survival. In Calgary she struggled to find a job, and transportation was a complete nightmare. Her English was decent but limited, and all of her friends were fellow refugees experiencing the same exhaustive situations in daily life. When winter finally came, the day-by-day dropping temperatures mixed with culture shock and the sheer frustration of being helplessly alone left her feeling miserable.
“We need to see migrants as partners in our collective development. We should harness the agency, energy, imagination, and resilience they have demonstrated throughout the migration process, and offer them a place in our societies that is devoid of legal, economic, and social precariousness.” – Office of the High Commissioner, United Nations Human Rights
There were countless times when she would wait at a bus stop with her fingers and toes frostbitten from being outside for too long. She would ask a stranger, “When will the bus come?”
“10 more minutes…” they would reply. But the bus would usually come much later than that, and the disappointment that followed often brought her to tears. With her back leaning against the open-glass bus shelter, she would close her eyes and imagine being back in Vietnam—succumbing to the nostalgic memories of her younger self playing piano in her church, windows wide open because the temperature almost never dropped below 20 degrees. In Canada, however, having the temperature rise above 0 by even 1 or 2 degrees is enough of a reason to celebrate!
When I asked my mom what she wished had been different back then, she said, “I just wanted a little guidance. I knew life in Canada would be very different, but dealing with culture change on my own was overwhelming.”
As a country that is welcoming new refugees into our major cities, there are so many ways we can help those families readjust to life in a Canadian context. Canada can offer refugees a plethora of new opportunities, but it would be very difficult for them to make the best of what our country can offer if they feel unsupported and insecure. We should help make Canada a place they can call their home.
- They will have a lot of questions. We can help give them the answers.
- They will feel lonely and homesick. We can spend time with them and be their company.
- They will feel bitter about their situations. We can be a listening ear and let their stories and affliction be heard.
Refugee children have paid a high price in a world they have only briefly been a part of. Many children are victims, having been robbed of their education, family members, childhoods, and even their own lives since the wars began in Syria and neighbouring countries.
Supporting refugee children will help them build a future that both they and their parents risked their lives for. As a child of refugee parents, I am thankful to the sponsors who gave my parents a shot at a better life many years before I was born. I know that the children you choose to sponsor today can help to build a better tomorrow.
Would you consider providing hope for Syrians, Iraqis and other displaced refugees? Canadian Global Response offers a holistic Refugee Resettlement Program here in Canada, and assists the next generation of Syrians through local local partners in Lebanon and Jordan. Please consider starting a “Group of 5” with friends and colleagues, or for as little as $37 per month, food, clothing, medication, and education can be given to help a student in kindergarten to grade 6.