“World Refugee Day is an occasion to build empathy and understanding for the plight of people seeking refuge and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives. No matter who you are or where you come from, pandemic or not; every one of us can make a difference. Every action counts.” – UNHCR – United Nations High Commission for Refugees
I’ve got big plans for World Refugee Day. Please join me – virtually! Let’s do what we can on this day to support refugees. See ideas below!
What works better for you? Could you donate any amount to support my 5K walk in the Tamarack Ottawa Event? and/or Would you like to join me Jun 20 at 7pm for an online WRD meetup?
I’ve been working on this sponsorship with some new friends in Ottawa who are part of the Ottawa South Committee for Refugee Support – who work alongside Trinity Anglican Church (Ottawa). My goal for this event is to raise $1000, and I’m delighted to say that I’m nearly half way there!
Participants like me have until mid-September (I think) to complete the event and everyone will be doing the event on their own, for physical distancing. I’ve chosen to complete the 5K walk, and because I’m raising money for refugee sponsorship, I thought World Refugee Day would be the perfect day to do it!
I invite you to support me as I complete my 5K. I would SO appreciate it. I know that Hassan, Eli, Rebecca, Ricky, Jonathan, and little Veronica would love it, too! If we reach our goal, we’ll be $1000 closer to the $45,000 or so we need to have on hand to be able to submit the sponsorship paperwork to the Canadian Government.
Please donate online at my Tamarack Race Fundraising page.
Since I’ve decided to “Walk for Refuge” I also thought it would be nice to take a portion of my walk through a refuge of my own – Guildwood Forest – which is close to home. I promise to share photos!
Maybe I’ll even see this guy like I did a couple weeks ago. I’ll keep my distance 🙂
In the evening – an online meetup!
Many of my friends know I volunteer with AURA. AURA is hosting an “At-home Gala” in honour of World Refugee Day this year. Since the gala is “at home” participants can do whatever they want!
A little while ago, I came across a 30-minute episode of the Australian TV series “You Can’t Ask That.” In it, half a dozen different family groups – people who went to Australia as refugees – answer questions about their experiences. It’s heartwarming, eye-opening and all around beautiful, and I’d love to share it with you!
As COVID-19 has reached nearly every country on earth, many Canadians are feeling the fear, anxiety and uncertainty of life. It puts us in a state where we can begin to empathize with some of the world’s most vulnerable: people who are seeking refuge. I’m working to help a family of refuge-seekers right now
Though the news we are hearing every day is grim, you need not despair!
You can better the world for refugees today through the simple act of planning your veggie garden. It can bring you peace, celebrate an important day in Canada’s history, and help refugees all at the same time!
Today, April 4th, is Refugee Rights Day in Canada, commemorating the Singh Decision of 1985. This decision advanced refugees’ rights to claim protection in Canada.
Please celebrate this important day with me! Here’s how:
browse the great selection of Canadian-grown, 100% organic, pesticide-free herb and vegetable seedlings.
Fill your cart with goodness ($4 per plant, free shipping for 12 or more plants – shipping containers 100% recyclable).
At the checkout screen, use the coupon code GardenForRefuge. Ten percent of your purchase supports the family we’re working to sponsor.
Your plants will be delivered to your home on the date of your choosing – you can schedule your delivery to arrive later in the spring!
Worried about COVID-19? Since Plantables is an agricultural business, they are an essential business and will keep operating in Canada, and selling to customers in Ontario and Quebec only. (Usually they ship throughout Canada and the US, but due to COVID-19, shipping challenges they can only ship in Ontario and Quebec). Couriers (another essential business) will deliver the plants to your home – no contact and no line-ups at stores, keeping everyone safe.
Enjoy the good feeling you’ll have from what you just did!
Share this message with someone.
Please plan your garden today and take this act of hope. Our world will be better for it.
Rebecca is the mother in the family of six who I’m trying to help come to Canada. Why am I helping? Because her life has been so incredibly unfair, and she and her family deserve better. (see Rebecca’s Story).
Rebecca recently introduced me to the popular messaging platform, “What’s App.”
Last week she sent me an audio recording that was broadcast to users in her region, the Kwazulu Natal province of South Africa. At about 2 minutes in, we hear the xenophobia. The speaker is spreading the idea that Coronavirus does not exist, and implores people to to demand that the government deal with the “real threat” and remove foreigners from South Africa.
Last month Rebecca sent me a different recording (below, in French) that warns Congolese people that they should expect attacks to descend upon the schools attended by Congolese children. Terrifying!
Imagine this being your “normal” life.
I feel very fortunate to have been born in Canada and to have had a really wonderful life so far. Thank you mom, dad, friends, neighbours, and Canada!
I write this piece at a point in time when just about no one is living life as usual. We are about a month into the COVID-19 Global Pandemic, and it has touched nearly every country on earth. As much as Canadians are feeling the fear, anxiety and uncertainty that comes with COVID-19, can you imagine all these feelings plus being the target of xenophobic sentiment like Rebecca and her family are?
Right now, our borders are closed, but when they open again, I want – more than anything – to be able to welcome this family to Canada.
People everywhere are reacting to the frightening news that life as we knew it is very different, and very much at risk. Societies are strained and governments are scrambling to take care of their citizens. What happens when you aren’t a citizen?
Readers of this blog know that I am invested in helping people who are seeking refuge. Rebecca is the woman I’ve been connected with for nearly a year. She and her family have been seeking refuge for nearly a decade. They escaped rebel violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and made a dangerous journey to South Africa. There they found a very fragile safety, tainted as it is by xenophobic threats and attacks. It is not a place they feel at home. South Africa has never processed their asylum claim. How can they feel like anyone is looking out for them?
How will they, and the many other people in similar situations survive this pandemic? It is something that weighs heavily on my heart and in my mind.
So I continue to find moments to do anything I can to help them. In this moment I am asking you to give them a moment of your energy.
What I am about to share with you is a deeply disturbing story. It is also a story of perseverance, resilience, possibility and hope. How did I come to know this story? A desperate mother, Rebecca, found me on the internet. She noticed that I volunteer with a refugee serving group and reached out to me for help. (I receive quite a few requests for this kind of help, and usually I don’t respond. That sounds callous, I know. But consider that there are more than 65 million forcibly displaced people around the world…no one can respond to everyone!)
For whatever reason, I did engage with Rebecca. Please know her story…
In the Democratic Republic of Congo back in December 2009, Rebecca and her 3 children survived an unspeakable trauma: They were victims of brutal assaults and sexual violence perpetrated by rebel groups. Unfortunately, Rebecca’s first husband did not survive the violence. He was beaten in their home, and abducted, never to be seen again. Rebels returned 2 nights later and gang-raped Rebecca in front of her three of her young children, aged 3, 5, and 10 at the time. As they left, they promised to return – and threatened to kill everyone.
Rebecca did what you might expect a terrified mother to do: she bundled up her little children and fled the DRC. Rebecca knew someone who drove a cargo truck between the DRC and South Africa. He agreed to smuggle the four of them into the truck. They made the long and dangerous journey to South Africa, and have been living as Asylum Seekers ever since.
Ricky is Rebecca’s second husband. They met in South Africa. He also fled the DRC (in 2007) after a violent beating by rebels that left him with two broken arms. He felt lucky to escape with his life!
Rebecca, Ricky, and the children carry the trauma they experienced with them, and every day, pray for a better life.
The South African government has been extremely slow to attend to their asylum claims. In fact, they still haven’t. Nearly 10 years post-arrival, neither Rebecca nor her partner have citizenship status, which means they have very few rights and opportunities for a decent life. Despite their attempts, they do not have UNHCR refugee status either, which makes it extremely difficult to find a way to leave the country to seek a better life.
It is a very hard life, lived under the dark cloud of xenophobia. Without proper citizenship, Rebecca and Rickymust take jobs “under the table” to survive. It’s always precarious work, barely enough for the family to survive on, and the local people harass them to leave it. Rebecca and Ricky have been the victims of a xenophobic attack. They live every day in fear for their lives.
Another challenge for the family is that one of the boys, Jonathan is extremely ill. After receiving a blood transfusion in 2010 he developed a sleeping problem. He was diagnosed anaemic but the medicine did not help. His case has been neglected by the doctors in the State hospitals and the family cannot afford to take him to a private doctor. He has not been able to learn properly at school and has lost a lot of learning time. The family cannot afford the remedial school that doctors have recommended he attend. As you can imagine, this means a lot of anxiety for him, and affects the whole family.
Rebecca and her family are very desperate now. Rebecca knows that her children are getting older, and the longer the wait to get to a better place, the harder it will be for all of them to live decent lives.
Rebecca really wants to make a good and safe life for her family. They want to work and be responsible citizens, and be useful in another country. Recently, Rebecca told me that if she can make it to a better place, she wants to find a job helping others and she wants to volunteer to help other people seeking refuge. She is so grateful that I am trying to help. And I am utterly in awe of her resilience and perseverance.
At the beginning of this story, I promised you hope and possibility.
The hope and possibility is YOUand me together.
I have been involved in Refugee Sponsorship for the past 4 years. I know that if a Canadian Sponsorship group commits to sponsoring Rebecca’s family through Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees program, it is possible to help them come to Canada to find the better life they are so desperately seeking.
Rebecca has a sister living in Ottawa, Bernadette (who has her own story of a gruelling escape with her young children from the DRC to South Africa, and a migration to Canada. She is now a Canadian Citizen.) So, I thought, “let me see if I can find a sponsorship group in Ottawa who can help with the sponsorship.” I know from experience the energy and commitment required to undertake private sponsorship. I also knew that if I could tell a sponsorship group that family would be around to assist Rebecca and her family with settlement, that the group would be more willing to say yes to my request for help!
I reached out to a number of sponsorship groups in Ottawa. One of them agreed to meet with me. I told them Rebecca’s story, and Bernadette’s story too. They have agreed to help! (I was so thrilled the day they said “yes”!) Though I am based in Toronto, I have now joined this Ottawa-based collaborative to support this family seeking refuge. The team in Ottawa will help with the paperwork that the Canadian Government requires. They will support Rebecca and her family – alongside her sister Bernadette – during their first year in Canada. The group will help Rebecca’s family find a place to live, get proper clothing for Canada, connect them with doctors and dentists, help register the kids in school, orient them to transit, sign up for language classes, help them connect with employment opportunities and generally help them get used to life in Canada.
The Canadian government also requires that sponsorship groups raise enough money to support the family for one full year. Since first writing this post, I have an update on the amount we need to raise – it’s approximately $50,000. What is the money for? It is for living expenses in their first year here: housing, utilities, furniture and household supplies, transportation, dentistry, clothing – general life expenses to get established in Canada.
Could you see yourself helping this family have a better life?
My husband and I have set up a charitable fund with the Toronto Foundation. All donations of $25 or more are eligible for a Canadian charitable receipt for tax purposes. We will compare notes with our “kindness collaborators” in Ottawa until together, we have raised enough to support Rebecca and her family in their first year in Canada. Darrick and I have put in the first $5,000, and over time will continue to add our own donations to the fund. We are asking everyone we know to help out – and are reaching out to people we don’t yet know, too!
To the lovely people who already follow my blog: It has been ages since I’ve published a post. Thank you for continuing to follow! I’m back! If you’ve been connected to me in other ways in the last little while, you’ll know I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and doing things to help refugees. So, for the foreseeable future, that’s what I’ll be talking about here. I hope you’ll keep with me, and join me if you can.
To everyone else who finds themselves here, welcome!