Credit Cole Burston for The New York Times
Early this morning I listened to a CBC radio interview with a reporter working on a series of articles about Canada's Syrian refugee project in the New York Times. I had read the latest of the pieces on Friday which is about a Syrian family in Toronto with a ten-year-old daughter named Bayan who may be embracing her new home with a much greater enthusiasm than her parents desire.
Bayan is learning English quickly, making friends readily, and absorbing the culture with aplomb. She and her parents are testing the changes in societal norms with bumps in the road we might not imagine. Halloween was fun for Bayan but for her mother it seemed to be a disturbing celebration of a horror they wanted to leave behind. Three-day, grade 5 school trip to Toronto Island and a science school? Who wouldn't want this opportunity for a child? Bayan's father was uncomfortable with letting his daughter go for this extended period outside their supervision. In Syria Bayan would soon be at the age where she would wear a headscarf-- grade 7 her mother suggests. Grade 9, Bayan counters.
Bayan is not disrespectful and there are aspects of Canadian culture that unsettle her, She has friends whose parents live in different houses and she is convinced her parents wouldn't do this. She is a determined negotiator just the same. She did go out on Halloween and on the class trip. She takes off her sparkly sneakers before entering the mosque and covering her head.
One of the great benefits the Times piece sees in what Canada has done with refugee sponsorship is the private sponsorships which create an atmosphere of personal care and intimacy. Yet this can also inadvertently push into the societal norms which displaced families value and need.
These are important reminders for those of us involved in sponsorship. We have as yet unconfirmed word that our next Syrian family will arrive before the end of the year. Our wonderful interfaith group is already kicking into action, furnishing and equipping an apartment to welcome this family which is related to the one we welcomed last December, as well as the grandparents and another family this Fall.
We are motivated by compassion and a scriptural mandate to show hospitality to the refugee and the dispossessed. As we "make room in the inn" of our culture we do need to be respectful and honour their independence, even as they are vulnerable and depend upon us in so many ways.