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.