By Laura Stovel
It is mid-morning and my phone pings, telling me that I have a new message on WhatsApp, the phone app most used by friends overseas. It is a greeting from Amal Alsowwan, the mother of the family of four that Revelstoke for Refugees is sponsoring to come to our community. Every once in a while, Amal sends a greeting, often followed by an emoji kiss. I reply in kind, asking how her family is doing and sharing some news from Revelstoke. Although Amal does not speak English and I don’t speak Arabic we can talk from time to time using Google translate.
Amal, her husband Ferhan, and their two teenage sons, Hamzah and Harmoodi, fled Syria during the war and have been waiting patiently in Amman, Jordan since before Revelstoke for Refugees even existed. Waiting in limbo is hard. The boys are growing up and they cannot feel settled or really plan for the future but the family tries to make the best of it.
The Alsowwans have good friends, Hannes and Miemmi van der Westhuisen and their children who are relief workers from South Africa and help them out a lot, providing friendship, assistance and financial support. Revelstoke for Refugees members are in touch with Hannes and Miemmi who kindly translate Skype conversations and share news of the family.
Revelstoke for Refugees is a broad-based community group that formed in the fall of 2015 when Syrian refugees were making headlines and community groups across the country rushed to sponsor families. Initially led by Rana Nelson and joined by dozens of interested Revelstokians, the group responded to the federal government’s commitment to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of January 2016. We formed a committee to oversee the process. The Alliance Church, as an institution that was pre-approved for sponsorship, kindly stepped up to become our Sponsorship Agreement Holder. With the help of the knowledgeable folks at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (the Alliance Church’s sponsorship experts) in Toronto we applied to sponsor a Syrian family of seven. Unfortunately, the family backed out of the sponsorship so we chose another family, the Alsowwans, and reapplied to sponsor them in April 2017.
While we waited for the application to be processed, we learned about another route for sponsorship: the Blended Visa Sponsorship Program. This route is faster because the refugees on the list have been pre approved.
We applied to sponsor a young gay man, Sam, who had experienced persecution at home because of his sexual orientation. Incredibly, Sam arrived three months later, in mid-December 2017.
Sam is fluent in English, very artistic, and made friends in Revelstoke. He enjoyed working at Birch and Lace Hair Salon and participated in two art exhibits, including a one-day solo exhibit held at the United Church. Toward the end of his stay, he developed a love of hiking.
But Sam missed the diversity of city life. In July he moved to another city and is thriving there. He has good friends in and out of the gay community, a good shared house, lots of support and is working full time. He talks about coming back to Revelstoke to visit.
We have been told that the Alsowwans are in the final stages of processing so are waiting patiently for news that they may arrive soon.
Revelstoke for Refugees would like to thank all those who contributed to the sponsorship fund and who supported Sam during his stay here. We also thank Kristina and Reilly Geidt, Nadine and Stan Smith, and Vivian Mitchell for working with us to make their homes available in anticipation of the family’s arrival or for Sam’s stay. And finally, but not least, we thank the Revelstoke Alliance Church for their solid sponsorship support.
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