By Betsy Brierley
As of Christmas 2018, the Creston Refugee Committee has brought a total of 100 refugees to the valley and provided social/financial support for the first year of residence in Canada. The committee has been in existence since 1978 when it sponsored a family who fled their homeland as “boat people” during the unrest at the end of the war in Vietnam.
Our newest refugees are a Kurdish family of six who were forced to leave their home in Syria due to civil war. They arrived in Creston in June after spending five years in a tent in a refugee camp in Iraq. Committee members worked on their application for two years. In our experience, the lengthy, difficult bureaucratic process is similar for most refugee sponsorships.
The Syrian war brought a surge of renewed membership to the committee. In the months prior to the family’s arrival, members secured and furnished a rental home, arranged for a doctor and dentist, dealt with required documentation, ensured there would be help with English language training, and organized a welcome and transportation for their arrival at the Cranbrook airport.
With active participants, we are able to provide volunteer language tutors for the family, volunteer drivers, people to make necessary medical/dental arrangements, to assist with community familiarization, to provide bicycles, and to help in finding suitable employment.
The committee’s main activity is fundraising. Depending on the particular family, sponsorship can be shared with the Government of Canada. With no shared responsibility, the committee needs to raise up to $40,000 per family to see them through their first year. The last two families, who escaped military tyranny in northern Myanmar (formerly Burma), were in this non-government-sponsored category. After the first year, families are on their own financially, although the committee continues to advocate and help with socialization.
In 2018 volunteers made and sold pies, provided baked goods and worked at concert concessions, sold grocery cards for a percentage, and appealed to community organizations and individuals for donations. In past years we have organized 2-day garage sales, sold tickets to a Middle East dinner, and held sales of everything from manure to cookbooks. Any fundraising idea is considered. Volunteers raise approximately 50% of necessary funds; 50% comes from donations.
Many of the families spend their first year in Creston, then leave for employment or to be near a larger population. However, in the past few years, refugees have chosen to stay. At present, a family from Sierra Leone and four Burmese families live and work here. Several of the Burmese children who now attend school in Creston were born in refugee camps on the Thai border.
We are in the process of applying to sponsor another family in crisis from Myanmar who are not on a Government of Canada list. In 2019 we will be fundraising again in earnest to raise the necessary $40,000. Committee volunteers will continue to raise funds, give support, and advocate for the benefit of all Creston’s refugee families.
To find more information about us, our history, families, what we do, and/or to make a donation, please refer to the Creston Refugee Committee website: www.crestonrefugeecommittee.com.