Special to The Record
Fifteen years ago the Comox Valley opened its heart to welcome 31 refugees who were fleeing the genocide in Kosovo. They were here as a result of a major collaborative co-sponsorship between government, church, and private sponsor groups.
One week after arrival, a ground swell of cheers and clapping greeted the Kosovo people as they marched in the Canada Day parade carrying a huge banner depicting a 2 headed eagle, the emblem of the Albanian nation, plus giant letters saying THANK YOU CANADA, GOD BLESS YOU!
Volunteers from church organizations donated endless hours setting up apartments and town houses with furniture, appliances, clothing, and toys. Valley hospitality was outstanding, offering outings to beaches, fishing trips, farm visits, even an opera and barbeque on Denman Island. Courtenay City Council hosted a special welcoming reception. English Second Language classes were quickly established at Faith Lutheran Church here in Courtenay with later classes set up through North Island College.
Many resettlement services continued throughout the following year, including issues around immigration, health, schooling, housing, cultural sensitization, post traumatic counselling, job training and employment.
The local sponsoring groups included the following: St John the Divine Anglican Church, Courtenay Four Square Church, St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Harvest Gate Comox, Black Creek Mennonite Brethren Church, Comox Pentecostal, The Central Evangelical Free Church at North Island College, and the Comox-based Global Justice Committee.
The 31 Kosovars represented eight households, with 29 belonging to one extended family including 13 adult men, nine adult women, and nine children (six boys and three girls).
As part of the federal Government commitment, the Kosovo people were to have three options from which to choose once the hostilities had ceased in their homeland:
1. Return to Kosovo if they feel that was in their best interest.
2. Reserve their decision until later on the understanding they had 24 months only to make that decision.
3. Decide to make Canada their home.
With much anguished consultation these decisions were made, knowing that the possibility of never seeing each other again was included. Eight chose to return to Kosovo.
Most of these were young men desiring to help rebuild their homeland after the ravages of the war.
As well, the very elderly also chose to return to the familiar, since adaptation proved much more for them. 21 people chose to stay. These included married couples with young children who chose to build a new life for their children here in Canada.
Now 15 years later, all who stayed have all attained Canadian Citizenship. All of the children have graduated from High School. Five adults own homes of their own. Eight children have been born in Canada.
The eldest brother has established a construction business creating jobs for other Canadians.
Considering language and cultural adjustments and recovery from the trauma of war, these amazing people now hold employment in various fields such as landscaping, painting, reception, driving, company supervisor, hairstylist, store manager, homemakers and students.
This is indeed a story of courage and resilience; new citizens giving back with gratitude, remembering an outpouring of compassion and generosity from our wonderful Comox Valley Community.
Thank you Canada, and God Bless you.