Continued from parts 1 and 2 . . .
After our second meeting, I googled refugee process in Canada. I wanted to know how it actually works, when a person decides not to return to her homeland, but to present herself to an immigration officer instead. There was plenty of detailed information on the process, but what stuck with me were words like persecution, torture, death.
The bottom line, it seemed to me then, as it does now, is that a refugee is a person seeking protection. This is the sentiment I've carried around for weeks now and even though my new friend is older than I am and her kids are older than mine and she patiently gives me advice on home remedies for my girls who are both battling unending colds, I have found myself feeling protective of her.
When we'd encounter an official or customer service agent who was less than helpful, dismissive or even rude upon learning her status, I'd think, don't you realize that this is someone in need of protection?
Much of what she needed in those early weeks had to be accomplished, or at least initiated, by telephone. She is fluently trilingual, but English is her third language and she has a moderately strong accent. Phone calls tended to be difficult, not only because of the accent, but also because she was occasionally confused by the instructions she was given. Things are done very differently here.
I started making calls for her. Before long, I had a little introductory speech. Hello. I'm calling on behalf of a friend who is new to the country. Her name is . . . My English is a little better than hers. Then I'd ask for whatever she needed or leave a message. We left lots of messages.
In addition to the phone calls, I drove her places. We crisscrossed the city, again and again, from one government office to the next, to pick up forms, to drop off forms, to ask for forms she should have been given weeks ago, and so on and so forth. We visited potential doctors' offices, possible apartment buildings, the new landlord's office in the building she eventually chose, the kids' schools, community centres, food banks, employment service agencies, settlement service agencies, various church charities, the bank, the hydro utility -- all of which involved multiple visits and so very many forms.
And what did we learn?
We learned that ours is a giving community. Early on, when I knew nothing of the agencies that exist to support those in need in my city, I worried that it would be impossible for a family with absolutely nothing to find sufficient food, shelter and clothing. And yet, she and her children now live in a small, sparsely furnished apartment. There is food in the cupboards and warm winter clothing in the closets.
During those first few days, the agencies we approached seemed impenetrable. At first, we went to the wrong places and asked the wrong questions and filled out the wrong forms.
We learned very quickly that it is essential to ask the right questions. Even if we didn't know the right questions, we kept asking questions, everywhere we went. Sometimes, we got an answer we didn't expect -- news of a service no one had previously mentioned; a way to avoid a fee she couldn't possibly afford; a benefit her children desperately need.
We learned that while there are some out there who couldn't care less about helping persons in need -- even if, in fact, it is an integral part of their job description -- there are also extraordinary people who go above and beyond the call of duty every single day. And they do so in an environment in which the need far outweighs the resources and the people in need far outnumber the people who can help.
We learned that patience and faith are part of the process.
We learned that she might just be okay in all this, even though there is still a long way to go.
There is one more post to come, I think, on this subject. I'd like to describe a few of the people we met and write a little about the lasting impact of the past month. Then we're back to journal pages. I'll post number 48 on Thursday.