In its 30-year history, the Creston Refugee Committee has brought families from three continents to the Creston Valley. Members have selected a family from Myanmar (formerly Burma), two of which are children who were born in the Thai refugee camp that the family now lives in.
“Canada is one of the few countries in the world with no refugees coming across its borders from other countries,” said committee member Linda Price. “It is exciting to see how this community rallies to help give others a chance for a better life.”
The committee has set its sights on an extended family of seven that already has relatives living in Kimberley.
The family includes father April Saw, 27, mother Mwee Naw, 26, sons Eh Pwai Saw, 7, and Eh Lar Saw, 4, a baby girl born in December, Naw Way, 54 (Mwee’s mother), and her son, Kier Saw, 16. They are refugees from Myanmar, a notoriously closed country in Southeast Asia that has been the focus of human rights activists from around the world in recent years. Myanmar is Southeast Asia’s second largest country.
The Creston Refugee Commitee’s history of bringing refugee families to the area has been largely successful. Most families stay long enough to learn English and become acclimatized to Canadian culture before moving on to larger centres, which offer more opportunity for work and education, especially for young people.
Many Crestonites remember the first refugees sponsored by the committee. The Lau family members were Vietnamese boat people. The eldest, known locally as Mrs. Lau, grew vegetables in a backyard garden and sold them from beneath the catalpa tree beside the post office.
“We have also had families from Cambodia, Laos, the former Yugoslavia and Iraq,” said Ed Turner, also a committee member. The most recent family, two of whom remain here, came from a refugee camp in Africa, where they spent years waiting for a chance to start a new life.
“We did things as families together,” he said, describing activities in which his own family and refugee family members undertook.
“This community has always been so good — dentists and other professionals have never been a problem. They just step up and help,” he said. “The whole community seems to get behind them.”
The committee works closely with the United Church of Canada, which has an expert to help with the paperwork. Families are brought in under the church’s master agreement with the federal government, but the actual sponsorship is a non-denominational effort. Recent donations for the Saw family have come from the Creston Seventh-day Adventist and Glad Tidings Pentecostal churches.
The committee is told it needs about $10,000 per person to get a family through its first year in Creston.
“But we have never used anything like that amount,” Price said. “We get so many donations and deals that the costs are much lower. People often pledge to donate so much a month and we’ve been able to go back and tell them we won’t need all the money they’ve pledged. I think $30,000 will be plenty for this family of seven.”
For their part, the families agree to learn English and work toward becoming self-sufficient. They must repay the cost of airfare to the government of Canada before they can become landed immigrants.
“Repaying that debt is a source of pride to these families,” Price said. “They work really hard to earn that money.”
Price said the Saw family should fit nicely into the Creston Valley.
“They are farmers,” she said. “They are used to a rural life.”
A group in Nelson is working to bring April Saw’s brother and his family to the West Kootenay, Price said. That would mean that three parts of the extended family would all be southeastern B.C., close enough for visits and easy communication.
The necessary applications have been made, Price said. It’s now a matter of waiting for the family to be released from the refugee camp, something that is out of the committee’s hands. But members are focusing on fundraising so the finances are in places whenever the family arrives.
A $2,500 donation from Glad Tidings church and another $460 raised by the Seventh-day Adventist church has helped boost the committee’s bank account. Bake sales were held at the Creston Valley Farmer’s Market, and on March 27 the first in a series of Sunday brunches will be served at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, starting at 11:30 a.m.
“This is a very exciting time,” Turner said. “To be able to bring farmers here, when farm labour is so difficult to find, is a real bonus.”
People who wish to make a pledge, either a lump sum or monthly payment, can send the information to Trinity United Church, 128 10th Ave. N., P.O. Box 87, Creston, BC, V0B 1G0. For more information, visit the committee’s website, www.crestonbc.com/crestonrefugeecommittee.