As I sit thinking about the official end of our year-long sponsorship, an image comes to me...it's a picture of gently launching a little paper boat out onto the waters of a choppy lake.
The Al Homsi family has been here for nearly 14 months. The children are well settled in school. Everyone speaks English to some degree. Dad's got a part-time job. Bad teeth have been repaired. Mountains of paperwork have been completed, signed and notarised. Many things have been accomplished; but much remains to be done. Right now, finding reasonably-priced housing is an urgent need. Language is a major factor. We can speak of simple things now without resorting to interpreters; the Syrians can "get by" with their English. But our Western world is full of specialised vocabularies, A simple note from school sent home with a child can take most of an evening to puzzle out. And try explaining Groundhog Day to a Syrian!
What becomes clear is how the lives of these five people have been so radically and permanently altered. Only after spending much time with recent refugee arrivals do I see how profound this is. Perhaps most fundamental is the incredible complexity of our society compared to life in much of Syria. For instance, our daily financial machinations are a mystery: bank accounts, credit cards, tax returns, discount coupons, payroll deductions, RESPs. For many Syrians, the cash in their pockets and handshake agreements were enough.
Here, we take personal safety for granted; the Syrians have faced daily fire from the skies, unprovoked arrests, torture and the death of family and friends. There are very disparate customs and beliefs around gender. Surprise and sometimes puzzlement about gender roles occur on both sides. Western food, the rat-a-tat AM radio announcer, 35 different brands of toothpaste...it goes on and on.
One conclusion I've come to is that one year is not really enough for a thorough settlement. I'm thinking two years would be more realistic. Many things need to be experienced at least twice to sink in (like tax season; like the change of seasons) Fully functional English takes at least three years.
But as I watch the brave little paper boat being buffeted this way and that, I feel hopeful for these new Canadians. We are doing what we can and perhaps it will be enough. There are other boats elsewhere in the world that have sadly not stayed afloat.
Our process of identifying, bringing to Victoria, settling and supporting a family has a lot of moving parts! Our group is learning lots as we go. We will keep our friends and contributors up-to-date as we go.