World Refugee Day (June 20) and World Refugee Sunday (June 21) remind us that tens of millions of people in our world have nowhere to call home.
But some of them do find new homes. Vancouver has several front line ministries – New Hope, Journey Home and Kinbrace – which welcome refugees to Metro Vancouver. The refugee ‘issue’ becomes personal.
New Hope Community Services operates a 13-unit apartment building in Surrey which offers a home to many families who have been forced to flee their native lands.
Yehuda Mansell and his wife Sonya are volunteer resident assistants at New Hope; they live there with their children. Yehuda wrote this spoken word poem.
They come by plane, by foot and by car; my friends, from lands typically warmer than ours, and have experienced fears, deprivations inhuman, and horrors, often unspoken.
Just to arrive at this place is the culmination of a profound journey, and my interaction is merely the beginning of a new chapter in a very long story.
And here it often begins with a phone call, resulting in that first bus-trip to New Hope, hopeful faces in the hub room, stacks of papers, shards of existence crammed into worn folders. A halting interview, best foot forward, smiles that speak of both weariness and anticipation of some good news – for we all need a home.
A “yes!” Mindy kindly leads them around, all of us take a peek – it can’t be helped, we want to know who our new neighbours will be, will they like us, will we like them – do you think we’ll be friends?
Up the stairs, boom, boom, boom: a few bags, maybe a box or two, a donated couch that won’t fit around the corners, quick assemble the beds, find a table, groceries hiked up, a stocked pantry, Bob is making a last minute repair.
And sometimes they come with nothing at all, as our new friends have only themselves to bring, their stories, their memories of lands lost, but that is more than enough. For it is all of you who furnish the rest.
Children in motion
Giggling, running, chaos: capture the flag in the back lot, bikes, oh so many bikes, we are trying to keep them organized, but you know what that’s like. First there are training wheels, then some wobbly moments, and then glorious freedom as another little person discovers they can balance on their own! Perhaps the bikes are a metaphor for our lives here at New Hope.
Knock, knock at my door, “Can Tehila come out and play?” for the fiftieth time that day, or “Hudi, we made you a present!” I chuckle at the 20 rocks taken from the garden, wrapped in newspaper from the recycling bin. “They’re candy,” Malak proclaims loudly, “But don’t eat them,” she whispers, “They’re really just rocks.” I wink at her, “I know . . . just as long as they are hallal, right?”
Swollen bellies of mothers in waiting, then the phone call, the knock at the door, “Can you drive us to the hospital?” to usher our newest, little neighbour into the world. The whole building vibrates with joy and relief, as each new little person is a pledge of hope for the future.
Birthdays and crafts, ER visits, faithful volunteers giving of their lives, making meals, teaching English, teaching hope, community dinners; food is like glue for my friends and I. In this way, perhaps the cake I found smeared on the walls, helps our old creaky building hold together. And oh yes, the sticky doorknobs, remind me that we get to share EVERYTHING. And shoes scattered, everywhere, say that we are home.
Movement in growing confidence: the other day, one of my neighbours shared her dream of becoming a nurse, and she could do it too! Of all the things she has overcome, being a survivor, a single-mom – a Bachelor’s of Nursing has nothing on her!
Guys night: off to see the Vancouver Giants. Hockey players dash across the ice, watching our first game together. “Mr. Hudi, is the fighting all part of the show?” Yes, I suppose. It is all part of becoming Canadian.
I watch their eyes light-up with the same thrill I felt when watching my first game, with friends like these to watch with, I could even love hockey again.
Oh, and our discussions: Espanol, al-ʿarabīyah, English and whatever other bits we can cobble together, and you’d think we’d just talk about the weather – but no. Geopolitics, food, religion, romance, meaning and home. Our conversations always seem to move back towards home.
And I see that it isn’t I who carries the conversation, but community is breaking out all around me – I know that I am exactly where I need to be.
And then there are days when there is little movement at all, and getting out of bed is hard enough, and there is a throbbing sadness, at having lost so much, and the silent creep of culture shock, and never feeling entirely in control of your own destiny, and that everything is difficult, all.the.time. And my hope is that in those moments, that we don’t provide pithy answers, but that we’ll knock on each other’s doors to remind one another that we are never alone.
Late nights during Ramadan, sitting around the hooka, discussing the Koran, Jesus and which prophets were the coolest and why. And I find that as I take the posture of learner, conversations flow effortlessly, and are saturated with light.
And how we dream of the holiday we’ll all take together “someday” and see the best sites, and eat the finest food of our respective homelands, introducing one another to our most treasured places.
I try not to think about the next set of departures, but sometimes I feel anxious about my neighbours venturing out, and I feel the flash of being a protective father.
We’ve built something precious here, but I believe they’ll take the best of what we’ve had and replicate it, and that they’ll help be home for someone else.
So, our goodbyes are really just farewells, and “we’ll come visit soon” are not just pithy niceties, but truths. And moves are really just the spread of our community, and that every farewell becomes “welcome” to a new family who will become part of the movement of our home.
This is re-posted by permission from the New Hope blog. Images are from the New Hope Facebook page.
Mindy, mentioned in the poem, is Mindy Kozloff, director of programs for New Hope; she and her family are also resident assistants in the building.
Jack Taylor, who has been very involved with New Hope over the years, wrote World Refugee Day: Distant but Together for The Light. He interviewed Loren Balisky, co-founder of Kinbrace, and James Grunau, founder of Journey Home, among others.
Flyn, thank you so much for posting Hudi’s work! His words capture perfectly the sense of community I feel when I volunteer at New Hope. It’s a wonderful place that becomes family for those who live there, staff and other residents.
Even during the pandemic they have found ways to do community dinners via zoom that engage families in scavenger hunts and lego building contests, or bubbles off the balconies. We should all live in communities that love so well.