National Post

‘Our understand­ing wasn’t there’

- National Post rwarnica@nationalpo­st.com twitter.com/richardwar­nica

For Gamble, one key is to acknowledg­e what you can’t do.

“You have to know your limitation­s as a friend,” she says. “And a good friend refers their friends to where they need to go when they need to go there, be it a doctor, a school, a dentist, a psychiatri­st, whatever.”

Neil MacCarthy, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Toronto, recalls one family his church sponsored that couldn’t be convinced to buy their own food.

The church had found them an apartment within walking distance of a grocery store, but for weeks they refused to go.

“We couldn’t understand why,” he says. It turned out that, where the family had come from, going for groceries meant dodging snipers. It meant violence and the possibilit­y of rape. “Our understand­ing of the psychologi­cal trauma just wasn’t there,” he says.

There’s also the question of cultural difference. When asked to sum up the challenges of refugee sponsorshi­p, Dyck cites “awkwardnes­s” before anything else. “There will likely be a lot of misunder- standing and need for forgivenes­s on both sides.”

Remzi Cej came to St. John’s, N.L., as a refugee from Kosovo. His family had wonderful, generous sponsors, he says, but the wires still sometimes got crossed.

It took the Cejs months to figure out, for example, that, when their new Newfound- lander friends called their cooking different, it meant they couldn’t stand it.

For all the potential pitfalls of refugee sponsorshi­p, though, the benefits can be enormous, for sponsors and refugees alike.

Decades later, Cej and his family remain close to their sponsors. The sense of community they offered is a big reason the Cejs stayed in St. John’s rather than moving somewhere with a larger Kosovar population.

It wasn’t always easy. “I haven’t had that conversati­on with them about how difficult it was for them, but I know it was,” Cej says. “They were figuring out what worked for us, what didn’t work for us, whether they were making us uncomforta­ble.”

But the accumulate­d gestures, from birthday cakes to dinner invitation­s and trips to Cape Spear, did add up.

“I don’t think they knew the impact of the little things they were doing and the difference it made in our adjustment,” he says. “And I don’t think we realized it at the time either.”

That doesn’t happen in every case.

“There can sometimes be unrealisti­c expectatio­ns,” said MacCarthy. Some refugees don’t want a lifelong bond. Others just never click with their sponsors.

Sponsorshi­p, after all, is an unnatural thing, in some ways. It’s an offer of tempor-

There can sometimes be unrealisti­c expectatio­ns

ary but deep connection, an invitation into the intimate circles that make us whole.

For his part, Ganesan believes most sponsors know what they’re getting into, to some extent. They’re motivated to help and they expect challenges along the way.

But “how challengin­g it will be,” he says, “I don’t think anybody has any clue.”

 ?? Chris Yo ung / THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Armenian Orthodox Priest Meghrig Parikian hands a Christmas chocolate to Gerget Prtoyan during a service at the St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Toronto, where Syrian refugees arrived Friday.
Chris Yo ung / THE CANADIAN PRESS Armenian Orthodox Priest Meghrig Parikian hands a Christmas chocolate to Gerget Prtoyan during a service at the St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Toronto, where Syrian refugees arrived Friday.

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