Earlier this week I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the families that participated in our Family Reading Program this Fall. I wanted to learn more about their journey of coming to Canada as refugees and their experience in NITEO’s program.
Anna and Ali* fled their country due to threats Ali had received on his life. Ali shared: I couldn’t leave my daughters to grow up without their father.”
Anna and Ali made the decision to flee and within three days they were on a flight to Thailand. They could not bring many personal items nor say goodbye to many of their friends and community. Anna recounted how neither her nor Ali could work during their time in Thailand as they were staying without papers. They had to keep a low profile while they waited for a sponsorship opportunity to the US or Canada.
It was an incredibly challenging time as they knew their lives had changed forever. Anna shared: “We don’t have any choice. I just keep going…and every year, something happened that gave me some hope.”
After four years of waiting, Anna and Ali received the news that they were being sponsored to come to Canada. Anna shared how she had thought they would end up in Vancouver or Toronto: “What is Kelowna?! I had never heard of this place!” They were greeted at the airport by their sponsors and began to rebuild their lives in a new city and country.
Both Anna and Ali shared how it has been challenging but they are so thankful for the welcome they received in Canada. Anna shared: “When I look to my kids, I feel I am ok. The part who struggle are the parents…it’s not easy with a different culture…how can you make communication?”
When asked about the challenges they faced, Ali did not have to hesitate: “Language. And then, community.”
We named our Family Reading Program Story As Community as our desire was not solely to provide a program. We wanted it to be more than a program. We wanted to be part of welcoming newcomers into our community, coming alongside families by providing a welcoming and hospitable space while also meeting a practical need of supporting language learning and promoting literacy.
I asked about their family’s experience in our program this Fall. Ali shared: “It’s a fun program actually. It pushed the children to read without telling them they’re wrong…[the mentors would say] you’re ok, keep going. The way you opened with the story, it was amazing! It was very good, very very good.” He went on to say that it was about more than getting the right word every single time, but about helping to teach “knowledge” and understanding.
Story As Community was a bright light in my week, every week.
It is inspiring to share a room with so many courageous individuals who are building bright and hopeful futures for their families in a new city and country.
It is restorative to watch community grow over the course of an 8 or 9 week program.
It is lifegiving to see diversity celebrated rather than judged.
I could go on and on. It’s what you can do when you are surrounded by those who are bringing their best selves to the table. And when this happens, HOPE springs up.
There is more room at the table. In 2023 we will be hosting our winter session of Story As Community in Kelowna AND launching a pilot program in Vernon!
We cannot do this without you! I invite you to continue to lean in to this HOPE-full NITEO community.
Keep showing up.
Keep inviting others to join.
Keep living generously.