The Al Khawaldeh family is in good hands.
The Syrian refugee family is making a new home in Chilliwack with the help of members of the Eastern Fraser Valley Refugee Committee, who are walking them through the process.
“We’ve taken on the responsibility for offering social supports to this family of government-assisted refugees,” said Rev. Karen Medland, heading up the local committee. “They were here in the Fraser Valley already so we decided to do something in the interim while waiting for our sponsored family to arrive.”
The committee brings together Agassiz, Rosedale, Carman, Chilliwack, and Mount Shannon United Churches, as well as Christ Lutheran Church, and community groups.
Rev. Medland from Carman United has experience sponsoring refugees families in Kelowna.
The Al Khawaldeh family has spent almost three months getting used to their spacious three-bedroom rental in Chilliwack, after languishing a month in an Abbotsford hotel, and in Toronto for a month when they first got off the plane.
It’s been a long haul for them to get here.
The family includes dad Zach, and mom Mayaz and their five children: Nour, 16, Saffa, 15, Batwl, 13, Mohamad, 11 and Amir, eight.
The committee members take turns driving the family to medical appointments, filling out forms, arranging ESL, or other steps along the way to becoming Canadian.
“These are long-term commitments necessary to help these people build their new lives,” Rev. Medland said. “It’s that kind of social support that leads to successful integration, and learning how our system works.”
Government-assisted refugees, or GARs, are refugees whose initial resettlement in Canada is entirely supported for a year by the Government of Canada, with support from NGOs. It’s a different from private sponsorship by a Groups of Five, under the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program, which the group signed up for originally.
Across Canada there are GAR families being put up in hotels awaiting resettlement. They left their homes with what they could carry and are waiting to get integrated into the fabric of Canadian life. So officials from Community Services organizations started contacting sponsorship groups to see if they were willing to offer social supports in the interim for GAR families awaiting help.
“We said we’d take one,” said Rev. Medland. They had already committed to BVOR sponsorship but a glitch meant no families were forthcoming under that program.
They have since found out how true the adage is that it takes an entire community to raise a child — and also to support a big family.
The Al Khawaldeh kids are now in school, thriving as they soak up the more open and nurturing approach to education. Efforts are underway to bring both parents’ language skills up to levels required in the workforce and out and about in the community.
So far the family has visited the bike park at Island 22 and Cultus Lake. They’ve been to a Chiefs game and the boys are learning to play hockey.
They are already die-hard Chiefs fans.
But still some of the refugee group is feeling slightly frustrated with the glacial speed of everything to do with the refugee paperwork.
“It’s also the reality that the kind of help that is needed from us now is very intense and specialized,” said Rev. Medland.
The federal government has said it will bring in another 10,000 Syrians by the end of 2016, or early 2017.
That’s to answer the protest from Canadian groups that had raised thousands of dollars, lined up accommodations and were waiting for families.
There’s a bottleneck in the system that is keeping other refugees holed up in hotels awaiting accommodations in a very tiny rental home market.
Many suspect that now that Canada has welcomed 25,000 refugees already there’s not the urgency there once was to keep the lines moving.
So the committee is just doing what they can, enjoying the moments as Canada gains another new family.
“What we’re hoping for is patience from everyone,” she said.
It’s going to take a while to get everyone up to speed, in terms of English skills, driving licence requirements and employability that will make the family members able to contribute to society through meaningful employment and community involvement.
The dad of the family, Zach Al Khawaldeh, is trained as an electrician, and high voltage wire repair. He hopes to eventually get certified to work in his chosen trade.
He said he feels very grateful for all the help the committee has offered.
“Everyone is so nice.”
The focus recently was on getting a hold of driver’s licence documents in Arabic, so he could study and take the test.
But what he really wants is to grow a lemon tree like back home where everyone used to have their own olive and lemon trees.
“The weather is so nice in Chilliwack. I think I will grow lemons like at home.”