The Way to Here

Last October (2016), I first heard Jordie mention in passing that he wanted to get involved with refugee settlement. It immediately caught my attention.

Let’s back it up though. I’ve always been interested in travelling, other cultures, and living abroad. I thank my parents for passing on that bug. I grew up hearing stories of my mum and dad roaming all over Africa, Europe, Asia, and America doing all sorts of wild things. They worked with NGOs, with disaster relief, in refugee camps, in construction, in nursing – you name it. Not surprisingly, I aspired to do the same. And I have, to some degree.

Before deciding to pursue nursing, I had the opportunity to live in Switzerland for a year and a half to work, travel, learn, and discover new people and places. Soon after starting studies at TWU, I landed on a team of students going to rural Indonesia to work alongside an organization focused on health promotion and public health. 18 countries later (and counting), I can easily re-confirm my interest in and desire for community development, health promotion, equity, and all things in between.

Fast forward to earlier this year: As a person who is continuously on the move, being in one place for a long period of time made me restless, and I was looking for things to keep me busy here in Langley. At a chapel talk, I heard a speaker from Settlement 360 (Thank you Melissa Giles!) share her experiences with community development and refugee resettlement. I emailed her out of the blue, and she graciously allowed me to pick her brain about countless topics and accompany her to various events. It was at these meetings and information sessions that I really began learning about local refugee resettlement and the groups and organizations involved. It was encouraging to see so many that have risen up in response to the refugee crisis, specifically with Syria. And yet there is still so much that can be done.

Now, to TRAC. Originally, when I heard Jordie mention his interest in refugee involvement, I thought I might chat with him and refer him to some people that I had connected with about this topic in our area. After meeting with him and hearing about his dream to sponsor a family, to engage our university and surrounding community, and to give opportunities to get involved, I was reeled in. Now, it’s my pleasure (and my part in TRAC) to connect and meet with potential partner organizations, gather information and resources, document and organize, pursue fundraising, and help out the rest of the team where needed.

A couple months later, here we are. I’m still so thrilled to be a part of this. I’m also so thankful to all of the people who have taken time to meet with us, share insight, and give encouragement as we navigated this new-to-all-of-us idea. It did not take much time at TWU to appreciate all of the opportunity, expertise, and support that we are surrounded by. Like many of us, I have grown, learned, made friends, worked, and made a home at Trinity and in Langley. It just makes sense to share this space with a family who needs it.

When I was 10 or so, a refugee family whom my mother had worked with in Cambodia came to visit us on our farm. I saw their outrageous generosity, massive love and adoration for my mum, and overwhelming gratitude. Upon seeing a blanket they had with a tiger on it, I unwittingly told them how much I loved tigers. They handed it to me immediately, and my brother and I have been duelling for it ever since. They fed us loads of crazy foods and fruits my northern BC upbringing never could have prepared me for. I wrote letters with one of their daughters for years. Some of their children took me to my first IMAX movie. We always looked forward to the days that a nearby Cambodian family would bring spring rolls for dinner.

At the time, I had little sense of the journey they had made: fleeing Cambodia, living in camps surrounded by conflict and fear, and moving to Canada. I recently asked my mum to talk through what this experience would’ve been like, and how they came to BC. In the 70’s and 80’s, under a tyrannical and genocidal government, all peoples perceived to be a threat (educated, trained, or even appearing so by wearing glasses) were targeted and killed. Many people fled the country and, when the Pol Pot regime ended, tried to reenter. Unfortunately, the threat still was alive and active, preventing refugees from returning home. Thousands ended up in Khmer Rouge refugee camps like Red Hill, where my mum was stationed as a nurse by World Vision (see attached photos). The UN, international agencies, and staff all advocated for sponsorship and relocation of these refugees, especially those at high risk and suffering from illnesses and disabilities. Masses of people might have died in camps such as these, and those that survived had no guarantee of returning to normal life. With the help of churches, groups, and organizations that sought out ways to sponsor and help, a great number were welcomed to Canada. After experiencing tragic loss and suffering, refugees were able to make a new home, accept new opportunities, and re-establish hope. My ambition is that, through TRAC and by continuing on in my life and career, I can be a part of bringing this same hope and support to the vast amount of others who are still looking for it.

“How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away! How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it.”
– Henri J. M. Nouwen

-Johanna Alderleisten