“The BVOR program changed my life, and my children will be forever changed by this experience,” says Karina Reid, in summing up the impact that being a refugee sponsor had on herself and her family.
The Blended Visa Office-Referred program is administered through the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, which provides training and support to Canadian refugee sponsorship groups and is housed at Catholic Crosscultural Services. The program is designed to resettle refugees identified by the United Nations Refugee Agency then referred to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). It’s “blended” because it’s a cost-sharing arrangement whereby IRCC and private sponsors both provide financial assistance, as well as work together and focus on their social and emotional integration to their new country through settlement support for the length of the sponsorship period (typically 12 months).
Karina created her “Group of Five” BVOR sponsorship group in early 2019, with four other women from the Vancouver area. The BVOR process allows sponsors to review profiles of refugee families and then select the family of their choice.
“We did not have any training on what to expect with the family we selected, but we all have small children and we wanted to help a single mother with small children if we could,” she said.
The group selected a family that had been living in a refugee camp in Namibia for five years, after having fled their native Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014. Atosha was 21 when she arrived in Vancouver with her son, Delphin, 5, in February, 2019, just before the pandemic hit North America.
“It appealed to me as something tangible I could do — to be a part of people-centred change. The unprecedented humanitarian crisis of forced displacement is due to climate change, ongoing wars, and the polarization we see in the world today. Everyone should have the right to be safe and secure and the right not be stateless,” Karina said.
The Group of Five acted quickly and decisively to make the young family feel at home in their new country, helping to get them settled with housing, while acclimating them to Canadian customs and our health and education systems – and addressing challenges along the way.
“There are barriers to accessing many bureaucracies. Finding a family doctor was extremely frustrating. Finally, one of our group members pleaded with her family’s own doctor to take her (Atosha) on as a client. To rent an apartment, you need a job and references; to set up Wi-Fi and a phone you need a credit card. Every single step is full of obstacles. We completed all these tasks eventually as we knew the system,” she said.
But the learning and new experiences went both ways — and the revelations were numerous and charming.
“Welcoming this family into my home was one of the most intimate life-changing experiences of my life. I learned to appreciate things though the eyes of these strangers — like the first snowfall and first bath by a sweet, joyful little boy. I learned to make FuFu (Congolese dish). I had to explain why our food was in cans, how our water flowed effortlessly out of a pipe’” she said.
Karina also noted that Delphin exhibited a difference in maturity and independence that was impressive for a five-year old. The fact he was raised in a village had given him a competitive edge. He was able to easily tie his own shoelaces, for example, and quickly learned how to ride a bike and swim. Cultural differences played a role too, such as knowledge from elders that had been invaluable and instrumental to his childhood development.
“Our sponsorship group went through an enormous learning curve past our ethnocentric world view and we began to learn from this new family. I learned to be more present and extremely grateful,” Karina said.
“I have all this privilege just because I was born in Canada.”
The experience also bright to light notions of equity, access and representation.
“In moving through this process, I changed my own views and values. I began to perceive and explore my own white privilege. I started to see how institutions are set up for people like myself. If the foundation of democracy is community, then we all must strive to create a society that is equitable and where everyone has a place,” she said.
The experience has had a positive impact on Karina’s kids too.
“As parents, many times I might have said to my kids ‘eat your dinner, eat your food’ because there are children starving around the world. They’ve had conversations with Delphin and Atosha about how often food was given and where water came from. So, they have a different understanding of kindness and empathy, because they have lived through it, and are different people than they were before,” she said.
“This entire experience gave me an understanding of how I moved through the world with a certain privilege that I didn’t see until I took a walk in somebody else’s shoes.”
Refugee sponsorship allows an individual to step back and better understand what citizenship and belonging really means, while seeing first-hand the importance of civic engagement to driving outcomes for the common good.
“One purpose of the social realm is to cultivate interest in each other. What if we all did this? I invited this family into my home to sit at my own table, share a meal, and be a part of my family to help in their integration into Canadian society,” Karina said.
Now, Atosha has gone back to school and is getting her grade twelve diploma. She’s also taking settlement classes designed for newcomers with kids, while Delphin continues to make friends, learn, experience new things, and live his best life as a carefree kid.
“The BVOR program is one of Canada’s best kept treasures and I wish more Canadians would undercover the magic of private sponsorship, as it’s life-changing,“ Karina said.
We couldn’t agree more.
As you may know, Canada is welcoming 40,000 Afghan refugees fleeing political and social unrest right now and over the coming months.
Help CCS STAND UP for Refugees
Please consider joining our campaign and helping many of these community members with resettlement needs and services, including a focus on physical health and wellness initiatives for refugee youth and children. If you would like to support our work, please consider a donation.
And If you would like more information about refugee sponsorship, please contact the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program.