A Vanderhoof community group is looking to join the Canadian effort in providing Syrian refugee families with a home.
Earlier this month, Tyler Janzen, from the leadership team of Northside Church, presented to the district council the community group’s intention to sponsor and welcome a Syrian family to Vanderhoof this year.
“We are a group of concerned individuals from different backgrounds, united in the common cause of bringing a refugee family to Vanderhoof,” Janzen said. “We believe that this town is diverse and receptive enough to integrate someone different from ourselves.”
The group has been discussing refugee sponsorship since last October, researching and speaking with organizations from small northern communities about their experiences in sponsorship refugee families, he explained.
“[We don’t want] to rush into a situation that could do more harm that good,” Janzen said. “We feel that this decision is an easy one as most of us come from immigrant or refugee pasts and should have compassion for those who now find themselves in similar situations.”
Partnering with the Mennonite Central Committee, the group is now looking to fundraise $30,000 by March 20 to start the sponsorship process.
Arriving in two to four months, one family — comprising of a couple with two to three children — will be sponsored at this moment, though the effort should not stop at one, Janzen said.
To select a family, the sponsorship group will consider the incoming individuals’ English language ability, their skills that may match with work in the Vanderhoof area, as well as their situation abroad, he explained.
“There’s persecution of Christians in the refugee camps and many aren’t even allowed in the refugee camps,” Janzen said. “If we have a family that that is happening to, that would be a priority.”
It’s an opportunity to share and help, he added.
“We live in abundance and we want to help others in need, and not trying to live in fear of what could happen,” Janzen said.
The last time Vanderhoof residents played host to refugee families may have been in 1979, when community groups sponsored individuals from Vietnam who were displaced during the Vietnam War.
Five residents at the time, including Mike Bond as well as Ray and Yannick Abersek, sponsored the first group — two girls, 17 and 18. Tran My Tran and Van Nguyen worked full-time at Bond Brothers’ Sawmills, and stayed with the Abersek and Bond families for two years.
“It was an eye-opening experience, where we can say how fortunate we are,” said Bond’s niece Linda. “They were extremely hardworking, dedicated people, and they just wanted a chance.”
Bond used to travel the world and wanted to help those in need, while Ray Abersek was once a refugee as well from Czech Republic, she explained.
While the family has since lost touch with Nguyen, they’ve maintained contact with Tran, Linda said.
Tran eventually sponsored the rest of her family to Canada, married fellow Vietnamese refugee Coe Mach in Vanderhoof, and is now operating an Asian specialty goods business in Vancouver.
“They are just looking for opportunities, just like the rest of us, in life,” she said.