MCRC - 30 Years of Fostering New Beginnings

Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre

JIll

The Day I was ‘Fly on the Wall’

- Jill Edgington Kirby

I had been volunteering with a refugee family from Burma (Myanmar) for two years, around 2009. It was a very young family with a toddler who had become like family to me.

They had been waiting for their extended families to join them in Canada.

We even set up a Skype meeting with the extended family back in the refugee camp in Thailand, where they had lived for over a decade, and I had the opportunity to meet them online. It was a big deal at the time as this technology was quite new.

The first time their arrival was scheduled, it fell through. The family left the refugee camp, for the long journey to catch their flight in Bangkok. Protests broke out in the city, turning them back to the camp.

After this level of heartache and waiting, the time finally came for them to arrive in Calgary.

I was fortunate to join them at the airport to wait for the plane and to see them reunite. I had the chance to see our airport staff in action helping them navigate the immigration process.

We then headed to Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Center (MCRC) for them to settle into their temporary home.

When we arrived, a crowd of members from their community were waiting on the steps of the Centre to greet them. It was a joyous occasion for the whole community, not just their son and daughters who had come to Canada first.

Then it sunk in on me that all these community members felt a sense of home at MCRC; it had been their very first home in Canada and the very first place they felt safe.

I watched as the family of 8 were set up in their apartment and all their closest family and friends joined them as they unpacked.

I understood a few words of the language, just the basic greetings, but as I sat on the floor of the apartment, I watched the buzz and excitement of this arrival.

Their father and I sat in silence together, his face was full of joy as he saw his family reunited and we simply sat smiling at each other and watching the room. As a staff member at CCIS, we do not often see these private moments and grasp the full extent of what MCRC means to families.

My volunteer role allowed me a chance to be a ‘fly on the wall’ and see the emotions of family reunion in Calgary.

The awkwardness of the toddler who didn’t know how to react to all the family attention, the joy, the gifts exchanged, and the comfort of being together again.

This story has been replayed at MCRC hundreds of times since that day and represents a new start for the new arrivals and for the family who have been waiting. 

Jill Edgington Kirby is Program Manager at CCIS’ Center for Refugee Resilience (CRR). CRR program supports refugees affected by trauma. She is still in touch with the family mentioned in her story.

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