In a week where the latest news out of Syria is that chemical nerve agents appear to have been deployed against a civilian population in the province of Idlib, (with children disproportionately among the dead) it is worth reflecting on the little stories of hope and renewal for the Syrian diaspora in our own backyard. One of these stories involves a large extended refugee family – seven children in all – and their experience of the SAC-SunFun program in the summer of 2017.
When the children first came to The Cridge, they were insular and liked to test boundaries and rules – even to misrepresent their comprehension of English when it suited them! The SunFun leaders were quick to recognize that their shared experience of trauma and fear in Syria and the refugee camps (combined with their familial and cultural bonds) had made them dependent on each other and wary of outsiders, and set about patiently building relationships of trust with the children. This deliberate effort on the part of the leaders, against the background of daily excursions and adventures with SunFun, bore fruit by the end of the summer. One leader reflects that this period may have been the first time the family had been together under such happy circumstances — in which they were free from fear, relaxed, and at peace. Correspondingly, she watched them blossom into outgoing and humorous characters, eager to spend time with the leaders in particular. The positive attention and affirmation gave the leaders credibility with the children which translated into trust in difficult moments. SAC Coordinator Tim Latour recounts one episode from a trip to Youbou, where the children witnessed Royal Canadian Navy divers practicing dropping from a helicopter into the lake. One of the older girls seemed close to a panic attack, but Tim and another leader were able to reassure them and explain that these were the ‘good guys.’ The seven of them ended the day cheering for the divers from the dock!
The socialization of the children was also promoted through their experience of the program. Leaders noted how their language and communication skills improved over the course of the summer. This development was supported by an ESL instructor coming in several times a week to meet with them at the end of the day in the Childcare building. Whereas at the start of the summer the children would often act out in frustration instead of asking for help or mediation, by the end they were comfortable enough and confident enough to approach the leaders with their needs, wants, and problems.
Perhaps most importantly, the children and their families increasingly came to see Canada as home. One leader recalls playing catch with one of the girls and looking up to see her father at the top of the hill laughing with joy at the spectacle! Another remembers one of the older boys on the drive up to Youbou staring wistfully out the window at sprawling green farmland and stating: ‘One day, I will live here.’ Those leaders who have been lucky enough to be responsible for pickups and drop-offs at Quadra Elementary this school year have been greeted not just with hellos, smiles, and hugs from all the cousins but with the sight of the children continuing to realize they are not just welcome here, they belong here.
In the midst of the horror the headlines out of Syria inundate us with, and our seeming helplessness in the face of the terrible human cost of the ongoing conflict, we can take heart in the fact that The Cridge Centre for the Family quietly goes about making a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable victims of that conflagration. Truly, The Cridge community is a place of security, hospitality and care for those who need it most, a place where children and adults alike are encouraged to flourish. It is a place where the love of Jesus Christ is indeed manifest, and seeds of hope are sown in a broken world.
School Age Care and SunFun Worker