A father and mother hold their young daughter.
MCC photo/Meghan Mast

Brian Darweesh and Reem Younes — holding their daughter Alma Darweesh — came to Canada in 2015 as refugees from Syria. The couple was sponsored by a Winnipeg-based church through MCC's private sponsorship agreement with the government.


Playing time: 
Join Threads for a conversation about personal experiences with refugee resettlement in Manitoba.


Listen in as our host Kyle Rudge speaks with Maysoun Darweesh, program coordinator of MCC Manitoba's Migration & Resettlement Program, and Keith Kuhl, member of a community sponsorship group, about personal experiences with refugee sponsorship.

Threads, formerly known as Word and Deed, was established in April 2007. It is a 15-minute radio program by KR Words featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of the month. 

Audio transcription:

Kyle Rudge  0:02  
It begins with a single thread, woven through other thread, and then another, and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another just like it. [MUSIC]

This process is repeated over and over and over. Until we have a beautiful tapestry that all begin with a single thread. Welcome to MCC threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world.

We are in that time of year where I think we're all done. With winter. It's cold, the snow keeps coming and spring seems just out of reach. But there's one program at Mennonite Central Committee that really starts to heat up at this time of year.

Maysoun Darweesh  1:09  
My name is Maysoun Darweesh. I am the program coordinator for Migration and Resettlement at MCC Manitoba. We are located in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Kyle Rudge  1:20  
The Migration and Resettlement Program organizes the sponsorship cases for all refugees being sponsored in Canada through MCC. 

Maysoun Darweesh  1:27  
So, through Migration and Resettlement we connect with our constituent groups or community groups or organizational groups and assist them in sponsoring refugees by doing a proper orientation, help them to explore how to change people's lives by sponsoring them from overseas. I'm talking about refugees specifically. And also communicate with IRCC directly, follow up with the files that we submitted in order to assist refugees to come to Canada. This is, you know, I tried to explain it in a very brief way. That's what we do in Migration and Resettlement.

Kyle Rudge  2:17  
So, this time of year Maysoun and the team at the Migration and Resettlement Program are eagerly organizing sponsorship groups and connecting with the Canadian government about refugee opportunities.

Keith Kuhl  2:28  
Hi, I'm Keith Kuhl located in Winkler, Manitoba and I'm the president of Southern Potato Company.

Kyle Rudge  2:35  
Keith and his family are one of those groups that are partnering with MCC and the Migration and Resettlement Program.

Keith Kuhl  2:42  
I think just a desire to be a good example to the family and to use use the resources that we have to help people that are in much much poorer conditions than what we are in.

Kyle Rudge  2:54  
Keith and his family have been involved for approximately eight years now.

Keith Kuhl  2:58  
Why with the new Canadians that we that we worked with, first was a family of four. Mom and dad and two girls. They were at had converted from being Muslim to being Christian and and had to flee in order to avoid persecution. The last refugee that we that we were significantly involved with was a single Muslim girl or lady. She she actually lived with my wife and myself for for about two years, as we tried to help her get herself established and you know, get get into things in the Canadian life.

Kyle Rudge  3:39  
As for Maysoun, she loves this work, but her story goes so much deeper. Several years ago, she was on the other side of this entire program. She was living as a refugee herself.

Maysoun Darweesh  3:52  
It started when I was a refugee with my family in Macau, China. That was, I believe, in late 2009 when we were facing deportation, and we were political asylum, like there was no way that we will return to our country. And we were thinking how to, you know, find that find the refuge somewhere else. I grew up in a family, loving family, but my parents belong to different denominations, religiously, and we considered as an outcast, me and my siblings. So it we face persecution in a very early age, bullying persecution even from relatives because my dad's side always say hey, you are mixed. My mom's side always say hey, you are mixed. You know what I mean? We weren't that that chosen children who came from a very decent, let's say, a pure denomination with the, with the approval of the relatives and community around you, that wasn't our case. So we learn how to deal with the struggle in a very early age. And that wasn't really pleasant for children, you know, it wasn't at all. So this, put me I remember, in a very critical situation, either I will be strong, move forward, or just stuck with my pain and be a failure. And my husband was also person from different, completely different. That's what they call it in my country. I don't, to be honest, I don't pay attention to differences. I pay attention to attention to similarities. Because at the end, I always say we're all similar, you know, we're all human, who cares? Like if you're Arab, you're, you're whatever. It's all, you know, similar in the in all ways. So my husband was Kurdish, Arab. We fall in love. And you can imagine what happened, so his family was against us. My family was against us. We insisted until we get we got their blessing, they blessed us at the end, we get married. My husband was a rebel, just like me. And both of us were so like, outspoken. And we were so like, we don't give up on certain issues. Like when they say you're not allowed to criticise the government, we criticise the government You're not allowed to talk about democracy, we talk about democracy. We were not allowed to ask for civil society. That's what we always, you know, speak about, civil society, equality, equity, we face lots of issues. And I used to face these issues when I was a student. So I calmed down a little bit when, during university time, just to for the sake of my parents, because I remember, my close friend said they only have you and two siblings, like I'm the only daughter, you know. And the oldest, they said, it's going to be so painful for them if something happened to you. And you've been investigated for many times, many times, several times, just think of them. And I was like, yeah, right. Yeah, I should just a little bit. And that's how I graduated peacefully. But when I married my husband, both of us were like, yeah, we have to make changes. Things are unfair. Minorities are facing lots of, you know, discrimination that you don't see in media and, even on the ground, a huge differences between rich and poor, etc. So he got arrested three times, tortured. At that time, I have my daughter, my oldest. And I was pregnant with my youngest. So I remember he fled the country without telling me that he's fleeing the country.

Kyle Rudge  4:01  
Maysoun's husband fled because earlier that same day, a colleague of his was arrested for doing the same things he was doing. He knew he had no time to even go home. It was now or never, and he fled, eventually finding himself in Macau, China.

Maysoun Darweesh  8:47  
At that time, he had no passport. So things were so complicated. So I remember after I wrote a letter with the support of my friends and ladies Bible study there, and they spread the letter all over the world and we receive an answer from the two churches remember I said the story to you and the church that has a very great experience you bring us and to do the applications in a faster way and they were ready they have the fund in hand was Douglas Mennonite Church. So they approach MCC. MCC arrange for everything. And things went through. We waited about two and a half years after that to come to Winnipeg, but my communication with Migration and Resettlement at MCC Manitoba started since that time, I was in direct contact with Brian Dyck. 

Kyle Rudge  9:45  
At that time, Brian Dyck worked in Maysoun's current position at that time. He was the Migration and Resettlement Program Director.

Maysoun Darweesh  9:52  
We had emails between each other. I used to ask him things so, I knew Brian a while ago. So every time I see Brian I say, you're my first friend here, you know? Yeah. And he's been very, very, very helpful. Like, as always, I'm a faithful person. Praise, praise God. Like, I'm so grateful. You know, what, if we arrived to Winnipeg safe and sound I want to serve God through MCC. And he used to look at me and said, yeah, why not? I'm like, no, really, really. When I go there, I just want to serve through MCC. I want to do something, you know, through MCC. I love them so much. And I think they're doing amazing stuff. Because just the idea, like you're able to communicate with the person who's reviewing the application, and making the connection between you and the sponsors who never ever seen you before. They, they just heard about your story from person you don't even know, you know, the whole thing was like, oh, my goodness, what is going on, I just want to do that.

Kyle Rudge  9:53  
Perhaps you'd like to get involved in some way. But before we go there, it might be best to clear up some misunderstanding that you may have about new Canadians.

Maysoun Darweesh  11:05  
Many people saying refugees are uneducated, ignorant, they don't have knowledge of life here. They don't know how to survive. They always, not always, most of the time, you feel their superiority from the other party, you know? Like they know better than you, they are smarter than you. Even with the with common sense things. Many refugees don't take it in a bad way. They just smile. Like I noticed this many times. They don't. They don't correct them. They don't because many times they said we're grateful, you know, it's fine. We're very grateful to them, but we don't want them to feel bad. And I'm like, they they looking at you in a very like small way like, you know, as if you are the inferior here, there is no superior and inferior in this equation. There is a relationship, a human relationship. And they, as you need to understand about the culture here. They need to understand your culture. You're not less than them. You're not less than anybody.

Kyle Rudge  11:58  
Maysoun laughed joyously when I asked her if there were misunderstandings that new Canadians have about us before they come here.

Maysoun Darweesh  12:23  
Absolutely, absolutely. Many, many times I hear from refugees, that they have an idea that they don't care about families. That's what they see in the movies, I guess movies have played North American movies, they don't care about families, when children are 18, they stopped talking to their parents. That's what they think.

Kyle Rudge  12:45  
The truth is we would love everyone not to have to flee their homes from war, violence and persecution, but it happens. It's a reality in our present. And with Migration and Resettlement, we become part of this large group of caring Manitobans who want to help strangers from around the world in their time of most need. And we give them a new chance at life and safety for them and often their family. Out of all of this chaos, comes beauty.

Keith Kuhl  13:22  
Our experience is that, you know, it's been a very positive experience. So you know, we have three children, eight grandchildren. And it was it was really rewarding, rewarding to see the whole family pitch in. By committing yourself and being willing to spend the time you'll you'll in the end, get your rewards and it's not a monetary reward. It's a reward of building that relationship with with the family of new Canadians.

Kyle Rudge  13:52  
As for how you can get involved, 

Maysoun Darweesh  13:53  
They can call us. Easy. Call us. To ask, our contact information actually is available on our website.

Kyle Rudge  14:02  
That website of course is mccmb.ca. MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance from Nikki Hamm Gwala. Thank you to Maysoun and Keith for sharing your hearts and experiences with the program and inspiring us to get involved as well. I'm Kyle Rudge and this is MCC Threads.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai