By Trisha Dempsey
On October 2nd, 2015, Shawna Lucas posted the following reflection and photo on Facebook, after a visit to Pier 21:
"I find this memorial at Pier 21 deeply moving. It is called the Wheel of Conscience and was designed to remember the Jewish people who tried to find asylum in Canada in 1939, but were sent back to Europe and Germany and suffering and death. It is a moment in Canada's history where we abandoned our humanity and the judgement of history has shown that we have blood on our hands. How many of us, if we could, would go back and try and change that moment in history?
When you stand and stare at this monument it is reflective, you can see yourself as you ponder the cogs of hatred, racism, xenophobia and antisemitism. It begs the question, what can I do now to make sure this isn't happening in the present? Although Canada is not physically pushing boats of refugees away from our shores, we are not doing enough to welcome them and make sure they get somewhere safe. We can't change the past, but we can change the present."
Shawna is an old friend of mine I hadn't seen in a while. Aware of my interest in refugee and immigrant issues, Shawna contacted me several days after her Facebook post to tell me how she wanted to organize a local sponsorship of a refugee family, and that we should meet up and talk about it. The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) happened to be having an information session on refugee sponsorship that week at the Halifax Central Library. We decided to attend and discuss the possibilities afterwards.
The session, and the wonderful facilitators, were very informative and answered the remaining questions we had about the process (check out ISANS' event page for notice of upcoming information sessions on the sponsorship process).
Canada is the only country that permits private refugee sponsorship. While this should certainly not replace Canada's government-assisted refugee program (where the government is responsible for all of the resettlement costs), private refugee sponsorship allows regular citizens to get involved in the resettlement process. By covering the costs of helping refugee families settle in Canada, private refugee sponsors hopefully increase the number of people the government can bring over.
We were both really interested in starting a private refugee sponsorship group. The refugee crisis has affected both of us deeply. We both have different skills, knowledge, experiences and resources that would be useful in getting a sponsorship initiative off the ground. Shawna has previously gone through the rigorous international adoption process in order to bring a young girl from Rwanda into her family, and is currently persisting with great determination in a 7-year-long, private sponsorship group effort to welcome a mother and daughter refugee family from South Africa. She is familiar with the sponsorship process and with her degree in public relations, she is equipped with fundraising skills.
I have recently graduated with no full-time employment yet lined up. I have, for once in my life, the resource of time! My academic background and previous research involvement, in addition to my volunteer work with Canadian newcomers, has provided me with a strong knowledge base on refugee and immigrant related issues.
However, we also recognized our limitations. As a busy mother to four amazing and adventurous young children, and as someone already involved in a private refugee sponsorship effort, Shawna is tight on time. Until Shawna contacted me, I desperately wanted to contribute to our country's refugee sponsorship effort in some way, but as a new graduate with an unpredictable future and no income, I felt really restricted. I could not contribute financially and was not in the position to make the long-term commitment required of a private sponsorship group.
Despite these limitations, we still felt we had to do something! We decided we could harness the resources we did have, and use these resources to be effective catalysts. We would assist and support other people in forming a private refugee sponsorship group.
I share this story because I know there are lots of people out there who want to contribute in some way to addressing the refugee crisis, but feel restricted for various reasons and helpless to do so. Everyone has some kind of resource they can contribute (e.g. skills, knowledge, experience, time, money, etc.)! You just need to match yourself up with people who need your particular resource, and whose available resources make up for the areas in which you are unable to contribute! That's our plan anyway :)
So far we have a name, a website, and a facebook group. We have had our first group meeting with interested participants, and our first fundraiser is planned for mid November - all within 2 weeks! Stay tuned!
Inspired by the group of people belonging to the Ripple Refugee Project in Toronto, who started a blog documenting their journey of trying to sponsor a refugee family, we thought we would try to do the same through this blogging platform. Publicly documenting the process will hopefully make private refugee sponsorship more accessible and understandable for others who may be interested in beginning this journey.