Refugee Sponsorship: And I Thought the Paperwork was Hard…Little Did I Know!

Refugee sponsorship is not always a piece of cake, a bed of roses, or even what we had hoped it might be.  Sponsorship is kind of like raising a child from 0-20 years of age, in 12 months flat! Except that you are dealing with someone who speaks another language, comes from a different culture, and is not in fact a child at all.

A good sponsor, like a good parent, needs to teach a newcomer to be self-sufficient and thrive without them. Before a newcomer arrives, we hope, we pray, we believe they will settle and be successful in our community. We have a list from the government that tells us how they can be successful: learn French or English, manage bank accounts, pay taxes, find employment, attend school and more.  We dream, surely, “my newcomer” will do all of these things and more!

Then reality hits…they aren’t picking up the language, they want to move to a different city, they want to go back home, they don’t understand the importance of following Canadian laws, they want to do everything or nothing on their own, they resent not supporting themselves, they are scared. We think, how will we ever help them become self-sufficient?

We may need to manage our own expectations. For a family having dealt with very severe trauma or living with daunting health issues, even learning a new language in one year may only be a dream. Sometimes, you will have to set aside the list of things that “should” be done and simply help them through a difficult day.

Alternatively, the newcomer who expects to find work or start a business within weeks or months after arrival may feel disappointed and frustrated because they are not able to provide the same lifestyle they were accustomed to in their home country. They may feel like they are failing, and all you can do is support them in their disappointment and point out their achievements.

When the person(s) we have sponsored is not meeting expectations, ours or their own, it may be difficult to know what to do.  Knowing when to step back is just as important as being willing to step up and help.

A healthy sponsorship is messy…you are taking a traumatized family and connecting them with a group of volunteers who “just want to help”. And, sometimes the best way to help is to do nothing at all.

Well-meaning volunteers can sometimes cause more harm than good when they disagree about what the next best steps may be. It can cause a great deal of stress when everyone has their own idea about what is best for the newcomer.  If an individual acts on their own without consulting the rest of the group, it can cause a lot of friction and often confusion for the newcomer. Just like in parenting, a unified voice is always the best course of action.

Sometimes volunteers act in their own interests instead of the family’s by creating dependency of the newcomer.  Doing everything for another person instead of helping them learn to do things for themselves is not helping them at all. It may seem easier to just “do it for them”, but remember there is only a short 12 months to get them standing on their own.

We navigate these challenges to the best of our ability, connecting newcomers with professional help when needed. We share our experience and knowledge, encourage them to try things on their own, and then at some point, we let go.

Just like parenting, we won’t do it perfectly, it’s going to get messy, AND it’s going to be OK.

If you have faced the challenges of gathering a group of people together to help another group of people learn to live in Canada, you have succeeded.

Celebrate Earth Day — Stand up for the Environment!

Each year, Earth Day—April 22—marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Over the years, our UU communities have marked this day with protests, education, worship and more to live out our seventh principle, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”.

What will your community do this year?

  1. join a local protest
  2. enjoy a picnic with friends and family
  3. hold an Earth Day worship service

Whatever activity you enjoy, we invite you to share what you are doing to mark this important date on the CUC Love and Justice FB group.

For inspiration, check out this years’ campaign for Environmental and Climate Literacy at EarthDay.org, This year’s focus is  to empower everyone to engage in environmental protection.

Moving From Reaction to Crime Prevention

We all worry when we hear about over-representation of Indigenous people in jail, solitary confinement, and incidents of police brutality. We want these things to stop. This is why the Canadian Unitarian Council has recommended to The Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, that our focus and our resources should be pointed at CRIME PREVENTION. We must address the root causes of violence. We know the programs that work, but we don’t fund them consistently. To reduce violence we have to build in effective evaluation, track what is working and what is not, and only finance what works. Those programs should receive stable, multi-year funding in First Nations communities, in our cities, and in our rural areas.

See our letter and brief to the Minister calling for action on Prevention.

Listen to Dr. Irvin Waller’s Call to Action at the Holtom Peace Lecture giving us the big picture. (this video is the presentation of an individual and does not necessarily express the opinion of the CUC)

What You Can Do

1. Help the Minister of Justice and Provinces achieve their mandates to prevent violence.

2. Meet with Politicians at all levels to share what works.

3. Foster a National Coalition of municipalities, Indigenous groups, churches, NGO’s, professional associations and others to promote a prevention agenda.

4. Volunteer for an organization with a proven track record to prevent crime.

Clean Water: What will you do to make a difference?

Did you know??? In the fall of 2016, 151 drinking water advisories were in effect in First Nations reserves across Canada.

More than 100 water advisories are routinely in effect, with some First Nations reserves living under advisories for nearly 20 years.

Below is A SAMPLE LETTER TO THE MINISTER OF INDIGENOUS AND NORTHERN AFFAIRS, REGARDING CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION, PREPARED FOR YOUR USE BY THE CANADIAN UNITARIAN COUNCIL. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO USE, ADAPT AND SHARE.

March 2017

To The Honourable Carolyn Bennett,
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6

As a Canadian Unitarian, I am writing to voice concern regarding access to safe, drinkable water and adequate sanitation in Canada.

Canadians need to see a progress report on your promise to eliminate the need for boil water advisories in First Nations by 2021. Further, I suggest advancing the target to 2018 as being both achievable and consistent with the priority. Canada certainly has the technology, and with a more focused effort and resources, this necessity for clean water can surely be provided for all Canadians.

Our Unitarian Universalist Principles guide us to “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and to “respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”. In support of these principles, the Canadian Unitarian Council passed a motion in 2015, that called for all to have the right to clean air, water and soil. Delivering on this right for First Nations is clearly a priority.

A good step towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples would be to ensure clean drinking water is available to all First Nation communities. Clean water is a human right. Unsafe drinking water in First Nations isn’t just an Indigenous issue — it’s also a Canadian issue. How can there be reconciliation in a country where many First Nations experience chronic water issues, while neighbouring municipalities enjoy reliable access to safe, clean drinking water?

Your government’s own expert advisory panel states that in order to ensure water and sanitation in First Nations communities meets the standards enjoyed by other people in Canada, the resource gap in infrastructure and training must be closed. The barrier created by federal policies and procedures for funding must be remodeled or removed if the water needs of First Nations are to be met in a fair and timely way. The advisory panel also called for immediate measures to address the needs of those First Nations communities that have no running water or sewage.

I therefore support the recommendations of the David Suzuki Foundation in asking the federal government to:
• Be transparent about its progress toward ending drinking water advisories in First Nations;
• Simplify the process to ensure bureaucracy does not impede steps toward ending the drinking water crisis; and
• Support a First Nations-led approach to drinking water.

Access to safe drinkable water and adequate sanitation are basic human rights. No one should be denied this right. Further delays are inexcusable.

Canadian Unitarians Commit to Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion

Canadian Unitarians:

  • Put our first and second principles into action by welcoming refugees, participating in marches and looking to find common ground with those we disagree with;
  • Intentionally reach out to and work with other faith groups to combat ignorance;
  • Accept and continue the work when setbacks occur.

We do this because we believe we are stronger together.

Download “Diversity is our strength” and “We are stronger together” posters as pdfs.

Unitarian Universalists are no strangers to struggle. From Selma to Standing Rock, in the US to affirming the right to die with dignity 1973, and affirming abortion rights in 1980 in Canada.

Despite this history, however, the times we live in today often seem particularly challenging. In the months following the 2016 US election, the climate of fear and hate that seems to have arisen in the US has many people wondering “could it happen here?” With the February 2017 shooting at a Quebec City mosque, some worry it already has.

Canadian Unitarians may be wondering how our faith and our commitment to justice, diversity, and inclusion should inform our response. Here are some ways we can act:

Remember our principles and sources

Our first principle affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, while our second calls on us to practice justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Taken together, these principles serve as a powerful reminder that all human lives matter – including people of colour, members of the LGBTQ community, refugees, undocumented immigrants, and many other groups who may feel particularly at risk. By providing welcoming congregations, by offering refugee sponsorship, by participating in the January 2017 Women’s Marches, and through many other initiatives, Canadian Unitarians have and must continue to live out our principles by being on the side of love.

This is difficult and necessary when it comes to those with whom we disagree.  We must strive not to see those who hold opposing views as the enemy, but must maintain the courage of our convictions while keeping an open mind and seeking to find areas of common ground.

Work with other faith groups

Unitarians were active participants in the January 2017 Women’s March on Washington D.C. and in many other cities, but they were far from alone. People from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and other backgrounds came together to act for human rights and against bigotry and discrimination.

Unitarians were proud to march with members of other faiths in the civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and 60s, and it’s equally important that we show up today. Indeed, getting to know members of other faiths better may be the single most important thing we can do to combat ignorance. Many UU congregations already have relationships with local mosques, but for those that don’t, now is the time to establish one. Consider organizing an event, such as a prayer vigil or an intergenerational meal, and invite members of local mosques, synagogues, temples, and churches. It’s also important to reach out to those of no faith or the “spiritual but not religious” to show them the valuable role organized religion can play in working for social justice. Sharing stories of multifaith action on Facebook is a great way to spread the word without seeming to evangelize.

Don’t lose sight of history

While the present era may seem uniquely challenging, it’s important to bear in mind that it is by no means the only time in history when Unitarians – and indeed, humanity – have faced difficult circumstances. We survived World War II and the Cold War, and there’s reason to believe we will prevail again. It’s also worth remembering that the struggles for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and many other causes have rarely gone in a straight line, and setbacks have accompanied every seeming step forward.

The CUC, for instance, passed a resolution in 1978 calling for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that most provinces began to amend their laws. Few could have predicted then, however, that same-sex marriage would be legalized across the country in 2005, a move Unitarians had worked hard for and which had five Canadian Unitarian youth from Calgary parading on Parliament Hill with a 500-foot rainbow banner.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.

We are stronger together.

Written by Kenzie Love for the CUC National Voice Team. Kenzie is a freelance journalist and a member of the Unitarian Church of Calgary. The CUC National Voice Team consists of the President of the CUC Board, the President of the UU Ministers of Canada, and the CUC Executive Director.