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West Kootenay Friends of Refugees half way to fundraising goal in effort to welcome two Burmese refugee families to Rossland
The West Kootenay Friends of Refugees (WKFOR) recently received a big boost from an AMEC barbecue that raised $1873 and a quilt raffle that pulled in $1400, bringing WKFOR half way to their total fundraising goal of $20,000 as they prepare to welcome two Burmese refugee families to Rossland some time in the next year.
Seventeen year old Nemaiah Shaw won the quilt, which was donated by a group of hardworking Doukhobor ladies from the Brilliant Training Centre of the Cultural Interpretive Society of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC). Shaw has decided, in turn, to donate the quilt to the two Burmese refugee families.
"I didn't expect to win," said Shaw, who only bought two tickets, "but I was really happy I did, and I'm really excited to donate it back to the families. I don't really need a quilt, but I think they'll really enjoy it and it will be a nice house warming gift when they get here."
Shaw, who recently graduated from RSS, will soon board a plane to Honduras with other members of the Interact club to help with AIDS orphans there. Rather than return to Canada afterwards, she will stay on in Costa Rica and flex her Spanish skills there for several months.
WKFOR member Jan Micklethwaite explained that the Doukhobor quilt was originally offered as a fundraiser to the Robusters dragon boat team, of which Micklethwaite is also a member. "But we have a member who is part of a quilting guild and they already had a quilt ready to go," she said.
A WKFOR fundraiser immediately came to mind, she said: "The Doukhobor people came here seeking religious freedom, they were refugees of a sort. I thought they would maybe feel a connection with the [WKFOR] project, so I suggested it to the ladies at the USCC."
"They were really excited when I suggested it to them and were really keen to donate the quilt," Micklethwaite said. "They invited Kathy and I out to their workshop, and we were astounded. The ladies out there spend several days a week working together creating quilts and all sorts of different objects, like traditional Doukhobor outfits, that are sold to members of the larger community."
Fifteen WKFOR members sold the raffle tickets that were donated by Halls Printing.
The Mechanical Department of AMEC also recently chose WKFOR to benefit from their quarterly barbecue and silent auction fundraiser, raking in $1873.17 towards the effort. Each AMEC department hosts a quarterly fundraiser.
"We're extremely grateful for the generous donation," said WKFOR member Coun. Kathy Moore.
Burma—renamed Myanmar by the oppressive military regime that took power in 1962 and continues to hold power despite recent overtures to democracy—has long been torn by tensions between its myriad ethnic groups and, under military rule, many ethnic groups have suffered under systematic, violent persecution.
Refugees are people who have fled their homeland to escape such persecution. The two families moving to Rossland escaped to Malaysia where they reside in refugee camps as they await permanent resettlement. Separate from Canada's immigration program—as much as it remains for refugees, after gutting by the current government—Canadians may also privately sponsor refugees, allowing more to resettle here and start new lives.
Moore submitted the application to sponsor one of the families in October, and submitted another application for the second family in February. Typically it takes 12 to 24 months before families arrive in Canada after the process begins.
"The bureaucracy is ticking along at it's usual pace," Moore said, "that is, very slowly. We don't expect to hear anything definitive until we're told they get their interview with Immigration Canada. That's a fairly extensive process. The next thing we'll hear will be, 'What airport do you want them to come into?' Then, a month later, they show up."
Other than occasional contact with one of the refugees, Moore doesn't expect to hear much more until they arrive. In the meantime, she and the rest of WKFOR are focused on fundraising to sustain the families through their first year in Rossland, as required by the sponsorship process. The consistent experience with other refugee immigrants—see the East Kootenay Friends of Burma—is that most find jobs (or start businesses) to sustain themselves before the year is out.
Two WKFOR fundraisers are scheduled for September. A film night will feature the award-winning documentary Moving to Mars: A million miles to Burma that follows some Burmese refugees who escaped to Thailand and then make the move to Sheffield, England to forge a new life. Later in the month, a chocolate and wine night will delight the senses.
"There are also people who donate monthly through an automatic deposit to the account," Moore said, noting that PayPal is an option and that no amount is too small. "We're also sending out a fundraising letter soon, and we hope people will contact friends and relatives for donations."