March 5, 2019 - MCC Canada celebrates the 40-year anniversary of the Refugee Sponsorship agreement with the Canadian government. According to a 2017 global study release by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are over 68.5 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, left desperately seeking safety and security for their families. Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need to address the refugee crisis around the world. Without the help of the many generous and compassionate supporters across Canada and beyond, MCC Canada would not have been able to reach this milestone and continue to work to help families who have traded their homes, cultures, and memories to find security, safety, and a new beginning through resettlement in Canada.
At the young age of 5, Nhung Tran-Davies was a refugee fleeing from war-torn Vietnam with her family of five. In 1979, she was sponsored by a couple in Alberta and started a new life as a Canadian. She is now a two-time refugee sponsor and recently shared about her experience.
Deciding to become a refugee sponsor
“When images of the war in Syria flooded our news stations in recent years, I could not help but be moved by the plight of the people. Seeing the thousands of desperate refugees, the crammed boats, the reports of many perishing at sea -- these heart-wrenching images brought back memories of our own family's journey forty years ago out of war-torn Vietnam. We were known as the boat people. Because of the kindness and compassion of amazing Canadians, I and my family were sponsored to Canada from a refugee camp.
Like us, these Syrian refugees are desperate to find hope and freedom. Hope for a better future for their children. Freedom from war and poverty. It was hard for me to sleep at night, in the comforts and security of our home, knowing that beautiful children were barely surviving in makeshift refugee camps. Knowing that all that I have now, the hope and freedom, the family and home, and all that I have become is because of our sponsors' kindness and generosity. I was both inspired and compelled to honour our sponsors by becoming a sponsor myself.”
The first experience with sponsorship
“Fortunately, my first experience with sponsorship was a very good, positive experience. This is because we partnered with the MCC office based out of Calgary to sponsor two refugee families. MCC is among organizations with special sponsorship privileges as SAH (Sponsorship Agreement Holders). The contact person, Orlando, and his team were knowledgeable and very helpful in guiding us through the process. In fact, MCC looked after most of the forms and paperwork for us, while I mainly just needed to gather a network of friends who were just as passionate about helping the refugees. It wasn't very difficult to find friends who were willing to step up to help in any way they can. When our refugee families arrived -- a family of five in Jan 2016 and a family of 8 in March 2016 -- MCC continued to play an important role in our journey. MCC (personnel) in Edmonton sent volunteers to the airport with us to be translators as we welcomed our families, and they remained a critical resource in helping us settle and integrate our families in the community.”
Nhung sponsored both families through the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program. This program matches refugees who have been identified for resettlement by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) with private sponsors. The government of Canada will provide financial support for up to six months and private sponsors provide financial support for the next six months, as well as emotional and social support for up to one year.
Sponsoring large families
Nhung shares that “sponsoring a large family can be daunting, at first.” She says the practical aspect of it is that you need to save enough funds to help support the family in the first year. “The more family members you are sponsoring, the more funds the government expects you to reserve in trust before they consider your application. However, if you are financially able to do so, with the support of a good group of friends, then it is very do-able,” says Nhung.
In terms of the everyday challenges of supporting a large family, Nhung explains that it can be difficult to transport a large family, find affordable and appropriately sized accommodations, and manage costs of dental work – if it’s something that is greatly needed. However, she says that “through careful planning and resourcefulness” it is possible to overcome these challenges and obtain government subsidy support to help cover some of the costs of dental work.
Nhung says “despite these challenges, the life-long benefits far outweigh the temporary difficulties.”
The most rewarding aspect of sponsorship is the fact that our new friends have become our family. I feel so blessed having new sisters and brothers to walk alongside with on this journey of life.
The rewards of sponsorship
“The most rewarding aspect of sponsorship is the fact that our new friends have become our family. I feel so blessed having new sisters and brothers to walk alongside with on this journey of life. I have gained a greater appreciation of their faith, their culture and, most definitely, their food. Oh, how we've been spoiled by the delicious meals they've shared with us. I also love the brilliant smiles on the children's faces on their first day of school, since they hadn't been able to go to school for some time. I love listening to their music and seeing them dance to their hearts' delight and without fear. My most favourite moment, however, is when I see our own children play joyously with their children. To see their love for one another is a promise that the future will be better.”
This sponsorship experience, in particular, had a significant impact on my life. I would say it changed my life because it gave me a glimpse into the hearts and minds of my sponsors -- their dedication to humanity, and all the work and commitment that goes into it.
The impact of Refugee Sponsorship on Nhung’s life
“Having been a sponsored refugee myself as a young girl, I appreciated over the years that all the hope and opportunities I had growing up were because of the kindness, compassion, and generosity of our sponsors. And so, I worked hard in school to become a medical doctor to help others and to live my life in honour of our sponsors by paying forward their kindness. This sponsorship experience, in particular, had a significant impact on my life. I would say it changed my life because it gave me a glimpse into the hearts and minds of my sponsors -- their dedication to humanity, and all the work and commitment that goes into it. As a result, I feel empowered with the knowledge that I too can positively change the course of someone else's life. The fact that 40 years later, we are faced with the same crisis in Syria as in Vietnam is a great reminder that we all have much work ahead of us in laying the foundation for peace, understanding, and love for one another.”
Advice to anyone who might be considering private sponsorship
In closing, Nhung shares four key pieces of advice she would give to someone who might be considering becoming a refugee sponsor:
- “Becoming a private sponsor is an incredible, rewarding experience. You should not pass up the opportunity to become one.”
- “Recognize that being a sponsor takes commitment and patience especially with the initial language barrier. But sign language and google translate can be fun, especially when unintended meanings come out of similar sounding words.”
- “You can't do this alone. There is indeed strength in numbers as you need a network of good friends to help with various aspects of settling the family in this new country.
- “Be ready to eat. My goodness, our Syrian families were so gracious as they kept trying to feed us every time we visited. They spoil our palates with such magnificent Arabic dishes. It's amazing.”