Wendy, SP staff in Vancouver, and her teammates walk alongside refugee neighbours who face the unique challenges of displacement and dissonance in the city and within their own families.
Mental health issues. Broken educational systems. Poverty. These and many other factors in our neighbourhood threaten the love, unity, and support in families. However, there are other often overlooked factors that also prevent families from thriving together as a whole. Language barriers, generational gaps, and cultural dissonance in a new country are significant challenges for the many Syrian refugee families that have resettled in our neighbourhood in recent years. Families have fled war together, but children, youth, and adults continue to process pain and trauma in very different ways. Each member also has a very different experience in transitioning to a new country.
G and M’s family is one of the first refugee families our Servant Partners team members have gotten to know in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Learning English as adults has been a difficult process for G and M, but their three children are excellent interpreters. G and M’s two young girls are now fluent in English, and their little toddler, born in a refugee camp in Jordan, insists that we pronounce her name in a Canadian accent when we stumble over proper Arabic intonation. At school, the children are familiarized with Canadian values; at home, they also learn to uphold and honour Syrian family values. Growing up like this creates dissonance between overlapping cultural paradigms and can be confusing and difficult to navigate.
How do refugee families withstand the pressures of displacement and the cultural and language dissonance within their own families over the long haul?
None of the members of our team have immediate experience fleeing war and dealing with the trauma that ensues, yet we intend to be a long-term presence in the lives of our refugee neighbours, to hold their stories with hope, and to become language and cultural guides when the need arises. As individual staff, many of whom are people of colour, we draw upon our own cultural identities and immigrant histories, offering our own insights and stories for the healing and consolation of others. We are grateful that families like G, M, and their children have also been part of our own wellbeing, embracing us generously into their lives.
We are honoured to be part of these families' healing journeys, one conversation over coffee, a shared meal, and a family visit at a time!
Blog post by Wendy Au Yeung