I read with interest the CBAL press release in the Townsman last week. It is indeed very exciting that the provincial government is funding the Welcoming Communities initiative.
As a member of EK Friends of Burma, a volunteer group that has been sponsoring and settling refugees to Kimberley and Cranbrook for over 15 years, I am thrilled that the needs of immigrants and refugees is being acknowledged.
My only concern is with the part of the article that spoke about the settlement services to be provided. Katherine Hough is quoted as saying that, “As immigrants come into the community, we will provide the services (to help them settle and acclimatize them).” She goes on to describe the immigrant settlement offices that will be set up in Kimberley and Cranbrook.
While I think settling of all immigrants, including refugees, is indeed an important service, I am quite concerned that no recognition was given in the article of the current volunteer settlement services that already exist and will continue to be provided in these two communities.
As a Sponsorship Agreement Holder, EK Friends of Burma is the only group who brings refugees to our communities. In some cases, community groups, including churches, sign the undertaking to take on financial responsibility, but even in these cases, we are always involved in supported their application to sponsor them and in providing support with settlement.
As the official sponsors of these refugees, we hold ourselves responsible for providing all essential settlement services. Before refugees arrive we are involved in ensuring that everything is in place to meet their needs.
Once the families arrive, we commit hours each week to setting up all of the community services that they require and providing them with orientation in the community.
During the first few months after the family’s arrival, volunteers visit the family on a daily basis, to help them with any immediate needs and to provide friendship, as the initial months in a new country can be very lonely.
Though this support lessens over time, we are still supporting some refugees on a weekly basis who have been living here for four to ten years.
Usually a group of six to ten volunteers is required to provide these countless hours of service. It is indeed a great deal of work but at the same time it is very rewarding. I think this is why we continue to have calls from new people in the community interested in helping out.
Just last week, I introduced a new volunteer to work elderly Karin refugee couple. She is excited to begin tutoring them in English, teaching them some Canadian cooking skills, and helping them with errands.
I am writing because it is important to me to acknowledge the settlement work carried out by all of the EK Friends of Burma volunteers and to ensure that residents of Cranbrook and Kimberley are aware that EK Friends of Burma volunteers will continue to provide all of these volunteer settlement services to the refugees we have sponsored and to any future refugees arriving in the region.
While our application to provide these services via the Welcoming Communities initiative was not accepted, it does not mean that CBAL will take over the services we provide. We are, however, disappointed that because our application was rejected, we will not be able to expand our services for refugees.
Thanks again to the Cranbrook Daily Townsman and the Kimberley Bulletin for the support you have shown us over the years in celebrating the arrival of new refugees to our communities and iin recognizing the settlement work carried out by our volunteers. And a huge thanks goes out to all our amazing volunteers for your hard work.
Barb Ryeburn is a member of East Kootenay Friends of Burma