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For the third time in less than a year, the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees joined other supporters to celebrate the reunion of another family, separated by war and the need to leave their home country.

Last Friday, a group of about 20 friends bearing signs and flags gathered at the Castlegar airport for another happy reunion.  Cheers went up as Rahaf Zwayne, her brother Amr and father Saad crossed the tarmac.  Over two years ago, Melva and Ian Scott of Fruitvale privately sponsored Rahaf, after a chance meeting in a souvenir shop in Istanbul led to an online friendship. Rahaf and her family had left Damascus for Turkey when war made it too dangerous to stay.

After Rahaf arrived in Canada, she and the Scotts began working to arrange for her father Saad and brother Amr to come to Canada.  Ian Scott completed reams of paperwork and with help from the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees, the musical trio La Cafamore, the Visac Gallery and dozens of local supporters, funds were raised to help pay for their travel and settlement costs. (No financial support is provided by the government to privately sponsored refugees.) However, with permanent residency now in place, all three family members are looking forward to working hard to contribute to their new country.

Earlier this year, Rahaf Zwayne completed a two-year diploma program in Hotel and Resort Management at Selkirk College and is now working two jobs in Nelson, where the family hope to live. She still has the dream of someday being able to return to her home country of Syria to help rebuild, but for now the focus is on helping her brother and father settle in, find work and locate a place to live together in Nelson.  If you are able to help with any of these requirements, please call 250-352-76-zero-zero.

In November (2017) Gidewen Melake arrived to join his family after being separated from them for seven years.  In June, the family of KoKo Latt opened their home to a cousin who had been living as a UN refugee in Malaysia for even longer.

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unnamedCongratulations to Rahaf Zwayne on successfully completing the two year diploma course in Resort and Hotel Management.  She is currently working in the Wellness department of the Kootenay Coop and as an assistant manager of the student residence at Selkirk. Rahaf, a Syrian refugee, came to Canada (via Fruitvale, BC) two years ago.

On May 30th an excited group of relatives and supporters gathered at the Castlegar airport to await the arrival of Bawi Vum. He looked happy to meet everyone after his lengthy journey from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, especially the relatives he hasn’t seen for years.

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Bawi Vum ,whose Christian name is Daniel, has come to join his cousin Lun Lun San, her husband Ko Ko Latt and their two sons in their home in Rossland. (They were the first people sponsored by the WKFoR group in December 2013.) This hard working family has been saving for years so they could privately sponsor their cousin – doing gardening, housecleaning, dishwashing at a local restaurant and, until recently, working the garbage truck.

 

Ko Ko Latt, Lun Lun San and Bawi Vum fled the oppressive regime in their home country of Myanmar and spent considerable time in Malaysia as refugees with few rights. Lun Lun San met and married Ko Ko Latt there and their eldest son was born in Kuala Lumpur.  When asked why they left Myanmar, Bawi Vum summed it up succinctly by saying, “When the soldiers came, bad things always happened.”

 

Born into a Christian family, the three adults learned to speak some English in Bible School when they were young. Like other newcomers to Canada, they are now able to access support in learning more from the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy. They also receive help from members of the WKFoR, who tutor them in their home.

 

We are all looking forward to getting to know Bawi Vum and wish him well in his new community.  He is eager to find a job and wants to become a contributing member of society.  His family and the West Kootenay Friends will be there to help every step of the way.

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Greetings from old and new friends.

On Wednesday, Aug. 25th, 2015, Ruta Zakarias and her two sons Eyobed and Yonathan arrived at the Castlegar airport from Cairo, where they had been living for a year and a half, after escaping from Eritrea. The West Kootenay Friends of Refugees sponsored the single mother with help from many local donors.

 

In the three years since she arrived, Ruta has become a real Rosslander, coping with snow and cold while her kids have learned to cross country ski, skate and downhill.  She has been working to earn her high school diploma equivalency and master English while her boys have been attending RSS in kindergarten and grade one.  Her goal is to become a care aide.

 

Late in 2017, the family was reunited with Gidewen Melake, the boys’ father and Ruta’s husband.  He had been living in Uganda with relatives when he was able to locate Ruta and ask if it was possible to come to Canada to join his family.  It took some time and a lot of paperwork, but eventually the West Kootenay Friends were able to make it happen. Gidewen had hoped to get a job in Rossland, but when this didn’t happen, he decided to try the Lower Mainland, where members of the Eritrean community in that area offered to help him find work.

 

He has now rented an apartment near a school and the family is ready to reunite once more in Burnaby, near the Christian Orthodox Church and the Eritrean community that has been helping Gidewen get settled.  On Saturday, March 17th, Ruta and her boys will board a bus and head for their new home.  Thanks to the generosity of Rob LeRose of Home Goods, their possessions will follow in a truck.

 

While the members of the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees will miss Ruta, Yonathan and Eyobed, we wish them well in the next phase of their lives in Canada. I know that Ruta would like to thank everyone who has made her family feel welcome. She has received incredible support and encouragement from the local community in so many ways.

 

The WKFoR are still involved in supporting the applications of three individuals who are in the process of obtaining permission to come to Canada as refugees. Bawi Vum, in Kuala Lumpur and Amr and Saad Zwayne, in Istanbul, are awaiting approval and have begun the interview stage – which is a positive step.

 

“The vast majority of the 4.8 million Syrians who have fled their country are from cities—retailers, professionals and business owners. As a result, almost 85% of them have chosen to settle in urban areas, mainly in Jordan. Most families have exhausted their resources and are now forced into dangerous and exploitive work—such as begging on the streets or prostitution—simply to survive.”

Read more online: https://www.unhcr.ca/how-you-can-help/donation-for-transformation/

At the West Kootenay Friends of Refugee AGM last night (November 1, 2017), the main topic of conversation was whether or not to proceed with another sponsorship.  The small group of members who have done most of the work of supporting our three sponsored families, did not feel they could proceed without others agreeing to take the lead in helping the next family. At this point, no one has stepped forward so we are looking at other options.

PROPOSAL: UNHCR Donation for Transformation

One of these alternatives is a new initiative developed by the UN Refugee Agency.  Their “Donation for Transformation” plan is aimed at helping some of the five million refugees who have been forced to leave Syria.

The most vulnerable of these refugees (in the informed opinion of the UNHCR) are those who have crossed the border into Jordan.  They are living in communities, not camps, and have exhausted all their options.

This plan provides cash directly to families to help with food, rent, medicine and children’s needs. The benefits are:

  • Freedom of choice to adjust spending where needed most
  • Children are not taken out of school to work or beg
  • Returns autonomy and dignity to those who until recently were just like us – living productive, normal lives
  • Better integration since they spend the money in the host communities and improve the local economy

The best part is that there are no overhead or administrative fees.  Out of every dollar contributed, 97 cents goes directly to the refugees.  (The other 3 cents pays for bank fees and the cost of the most up to date iris-scanning card so that only the family that gets the card can access the cash.)

To apply for the card, families call the UN Helpline, a home visit is conducted and those who meet the criteria open a bank account.  The UNHCR deposits a set amount each month and the recipients withdraw cash from an ATM. The entire process takes less than 30 days and the money arrives within 4 days of eligibility being confirmed, so assistance is provided very quickly.

The fourteen members who attended our AGM last night were in favour of taking this plan to the membership.  We propose to sponsor a family of 6 in Jordan for one year by paying $169 per month (total for a year $2028).  This will not reduce our bank balance by much and will serve our mandate of sponsoring refugees (even though they will not be coming to our community).

The response from members hearing of the proposal has thus far been very supportive. If you have comments or questions, please leave them below!

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Photo credit: Dave Cornelius

On Tuesday evening, January 31st, Rossland’s Harry LeFevre Square was filled with light from the many candles held in mittened hands by Rosslanders who turned out in the cold to show solidarity with Muslims everywhere and all others fleeing persecution, throughout the world. In the wake of the Quebec massacre and the US ban on travel by citizens of seven Muslim countries, members of the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees organized the vigil to give the community an opportunity to come together and show their feelings. Mayor Kathy Moore welcomed the crowd and spoke about the need for peace and understanding throughout the world to combat the hatred and violence that seem to lurk everywhere – even in peaceful Canada.

 
Prominent in the crowd were the San-Latt family, Aung Ko Ko, Lun Lun and their two children Samuel and David – Rossland’s first sponsored family, originally from Burma.  As well, Teysir Misto, father of our newest family (originally from Aleppo, Syria) spoke from the heart about his appreciation for the show of support for his family and the victims of the mosque shooting in Quebec. He made it clear, with the help of translator Hakim Aitami, that he is very happy to have brought his family to Canada. 
 
After a moment of silence to reflect on the reason for the gathering, Jill Peacock of the WKFoR thanked everyone for attending and invited the crowd to socialize around the bonfire.  Members of the Rossland Light Opera broke into song and people mingled and talked to friends and neighbors before walking home in the clear, cold night.

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We are very excited to welcome a new family to Rossland. This is the third family that has settled in Rossland since the group started.

More news via local news outlets:

Rossland News

The Rossland Telegraph

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Thank you to Mindful Mountain Yoga for their generous donation of $289 to the WKFoR.

Money and community awareness was raised through their Karma Yoga sessions.

Mindful Mountain Yoga is a warm and welcoming yoga studio in downtown Rossland.  They bring together yoga, mindfulness, and overall wellbeing through their classes and workshops. More information about the studio and their offerings is available on their website www.mindfulmtnyoga.com
 
MMY runs $5 Karma Yoga on Friday evenings  from 6-7pm.   Karma Yoga is their way of giving back to our community while making yoga more accessible to the community.  Each month a different local project or group is chosen to receive the donation collected throughout the month. 
 
You can follow the studio on Facebook (Mindful Mountain Yoga) and on Instagram (@mindfulmountainyoga).

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West Kootenay Friends of Refugee members Jan Micklethwaite and Kathy Moore holding a sign announcing how they are going to be celebrating Giving Day on Nov 29th.

The Misto family from Syria, sponsored by WKFoR, will arrive that day to start their new life in Canada. “Giving Day” is an initiative of CanadaHelps.org, a central website location for charitable giving. Donations for West Kootenay Friends of Refugees can be made on the site.

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WKFoR is helping to share a new book on a refugee family’s journey. Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning stone images illustrate the story.

Buy Now

(If you buy with this Buy Now button, ten dollars of your purchase will be donated to WKFoR)

Learn more at the website:http://steppingstonesthebook.com

Download the poster and share with your networks!

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