by Sue Rambow from Courtenay, BC
Feb 28, 15
Sometimes the news can be so devastating that I am overwhelmed by feelings of anguish and powerlessness. In 1999 when I watched reports of the Kosovo War, I was horrified to see images of mass graves, and people fleeing slaughter.
An opportunity opened up for my community to respond. Our immigrant resettlement office in the Comox Valley received a phone call from Immigration Canada. The government had begun an emergency initiative; local sponsors were invited to partner with the government to co-sponsor refugees from Kosovo. We were asked to sponsor an extended family: 31 people in total.
If we accepted, the family would be able to stay united.
We said yes.
Nine local churches became the official sponsors. The government covered the cost of relocation and settlement.
One month later the family arrived. Three generations: children and teens, young married couples and seniors.
We met them late one night at the Nanaimo airport.
They were scared, hungry, and sleep-deprived.
The children had been separated from the parents and put on a different flight. The parents were frantic.
A number of them had medical problems. Many were suffering post-traumatic stress. And of course, we weren’t able to communicate with them.
They spoke Albanian. We only had Croatian interpreters. So every transaction was conducted in three languages: English to Croatian, to Albanian, to Croatian and back to English.
A huge network of people worked together to find apartments and furniture, teach English, and help with the resettlement.
One day, shortly after the families had arrived, we received an unusual invitation from the residents of nearby Denman Island:
our family was invited to attend their local opera.
Everyone was excited about the idea of travelling on a ferry and being out on the water. They had never seen the ocean before.
Vans were rounded up, ferry schedules were checked and off we set.
The weather was perfect. We meandered along the shoreline, passing snug coves surrounded by magnificent sentinel firs and cedars.
The Denman Island ferry docks close to a marina and a log-strewn beach. Our welcoming committee had a barbeque of local salmon and freshly baked bread waiting for us. After the refreshments we were led to the local community hall where overstuffed couches, seats of honour, awaited in the front row.
The opera was soon in full swing. A showcase of local talent, supplemented by, shall we say, other enthusiastic performers.
After the show we thanked our gracious hosts and made our way back to the ferry.
We sat on the old wooden dock. The waves lapped quietly, the gulls cried discordantly overhead, and we nibbled on pizza – another offering from the people of Denman Island.
As we sat, someone began to sing one of the Kosovo traditional folk songs. Before long the adults had us up, circling around and back again, arms raised and fingers clicking. They sang the songs and we danced together, in the brilliant light of a full moon.
Tired, but relaxed and happy, we boarded the ferry to begin the journey home. Suddenly the lights of the ferry went dark, the engines slowed and we heard the captain’s voice. He had stopped, he said, so that we could enjoy the multitude of stars piercing the darkness in the heavens above.
In the magic of that moment, I saw one of the elderly mothers, traditionally dressed, reach down and pick up her grandchild. As I watched their embrace I felt reassured that peace was still possible and that this family had a future here in Canada.