There isn’t a lot of English conversation going on in a house on 16th Avenue South, but the smiles of seven new residents would seem to indicate they are getting along just fine.
The family, sponsored by the Creston Refugee Committee (CRC), arrived in Creston on July 22 after living for 14 years in a refugee camp in Thailand, near the border of their native Myanmar (formerly Burma). In Canada, they join family members who live in Kimberley and Cranbrook.
Saw April (28) and Naw Mwee Gay Paw (27) are father and mother of Sah Eh Pwai Doh Soe (8), Saw Eh Lar Soe (6) and Paw La Ku Wa (18 months). Also in the home are Naw Mwee Gay Paw’s mother, Naw Ko Wah (56) and brother, Saw Kler Nay Moo (17).
CRC volunteer Linda Price said the family arrived two weeks later than scheduled when Thai officials refused to let them leave the refugee camp. It took intervention by United Nations representatives in the area to ensure they were allowed to leave for their new home.
“These families coming to B.C. is the result of efforts by the East Kootenay Friends of Burma,” Price said. “I saw a presentation by the group and we decided to help out.”
The CRC did so by making a bit of a leap of faith — its one-year sponsorship of a Palestinian family was not yet complete at the time. (The five members have since been relocated to the Lower Mainland.)
A $2,000 monthly financial commitment is required to pay the expenses of a refugee family, but equally important is the volunteer aspect. Arrangements must be made for English language lessons, school, vocational training and social needs, and it works because of the generosity of CRC volunteers and their friends.
“Creston is an incredibly supportive, welcoming community,” Price said.
April and Kler (the Saw, Naw and Paw at the start of each name are honorifics) took advantage of the timing of their arrival in Creston to work picking cherries. Both are now hoping to find other work while they pursue their studies.
The transition to an entirely new and unfamiliar community isn’t an easy one, of course. On Eh Lar Sol’s first full day of kindergarten he didn’t get off at his school bus stop in the afternoon and Price spent a tense hour tracking his whereabouts and arranging for him to be brought home. April, Mwee Gay Paw and Ko Wah waited patiently at home, apparently bewildered by what was happening.
The family are Karens, a conglomeration of ethnicities, languages and cultures that live in Myanmar, which is considered to be one of the most closed countries on the planet.
“They are subsistence farmers to begin with,” Price said, so the family’s supporters hope they can find a future in this agricultural valley.
In order to continue to raise funds for this and future refugee families (this is the 22nd in about 25 years), the CRC is sponsoring a series of travel nights. The first, Marvelous Morocco, will be held in the Trinity United Church on Oct. 19 and the presenter will be former Creston resident Fliss Klassen.
CRC accepts commitments of monthly donations of $10 and up, and donations are accepted at the United Church. Tax receipts are issued.
Price said the support of local individuals is bolstered by that of the Creston Ministerial Association, as well as Rotary and Lions clubs.
“We work hard with all refugee adults to get them trained for employment,” Price said. “They are proud people and they know they aren’t coming here to sit and be cared for.”