Rob Wright was taking in a shoreline of the Caribbean Sea on his first trip to Belize when he spotted two boys fishing on a wharf. The pair didn’t have rods and instead relied on holding lines with hooked weeds.
They were fishing, as they did every day, so their family could eat dinner. Wright suggested they visit him the next day and borrow his fishing rods.
“I get up at about six the next morning, kinda half asleep, look down the stairs and there’s four eyes looking in,” he said.
The next year Wright and his wife Tammy returned to Belize, and Wright went to see the boys, Ryan and Chris. It was Chris’s 11th birthday, and Wright offered to buy him fishing supplies. The boy proudly declined.
So under the pretense of buying his own supplies, Wright had Chris tag along to a store. “I get it and I pay for it and I say, ‘Here’s your birthday present.’ And he starts to cry.”
Later that day the Wrights were visited by Chris’s mother, Miriam Gilhary, who stood in their doorway holding a birthday cake. The Blewett couple went to the Gilhary’s home for the party and found a small nest of huts surrounded by a crocodile lagoon.
The Gilharys’ home was a small shack made of plywood with one barred window, foamies for beds on a dirt floor and running water that wasn’t potable.
But on that day it didn’t matter. The birthday party was, as Wright recalls, a gas.
“It was amazing. They had this big meal. [Chris] got some lobster, they had some chicken and crab. Then they had the pinata. Well it’s just fricken hilarious. I think she made it out of concrete. … Finally it breaks and everybody there dive bombs the candy. It doesn’t matter if you’re one or two or 90, you’re in that pile.”
The Wrights continued to visit the family, who lived a few miles north of a resort on the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye. Now, 10 years after they first met, the Wrights wants to do more than just buy fishing rods.
They’ve been working on bringing Miriam and her daughter Estella, 14, to Canada for a holiday for over a year with the plan of eventually getting the pair permanent residency (Chris, now 19, has a partner and a child in Belize while Ryan, 17, is looking at a career in diving with help from Rob’s sister Patsy).
So far, they’ve had little success. Last year the Wrights tried to get a temporary resident visa for Miriam, which lasts for six months.
“My wife spent hours and had to do all kinds of paperwork and showing funds, had [Miriam] do her passport and show pictures and contact people and on and on and on and they finally said, ‘I’m sorry, we figure she could be a flight risk,’” said Rob Wright.
“Even though she’s leaving behind her job. We had to get letters from her employers, from preachers. It’s just amazing to do all this.”
Immigration, permanent or temporary, is an expensive, complicated process.
Catharina Tuit, a Nelson-based immigration consultant, said visa decisions are dependent on several factors, many of which focus on how attached a person is to their native country.
“Does this person have assets in their country? Do they have strong family ties? Do they have a stable job? Do they have enough money in their savings account? Do they have a house? Do they own things?” said Tuit. “They look at all these things.”
Successful permanent residency applications, according to Tuit, depend on factors such as education, work experience, language fluency and age.
But coming to Canada to study can also lead to a work permit, which in turn can end in permanent residency. Tuit said that’s part of the reason why so many international students study in Canada.
Because permanent residents 18 and older can apply to sponsor family members, the Wrights are hoping to put Estella through schooling in Canada. That way, they think, they can also eventually move Miriam to the Kootenays.
Rob Wright estimates the cost of bringing the pair to Canada for a month at $1,500 to $2,000. But the price starts climbing exponentially if the Wrights can get Estella into School District 8, which requires a study permit but is also a step toward permanent residency.
International students currently pay $1,300 per month to study in SD8, according to district principal of international education Sandy Prentice.
All of which is to say, the Wrights could use some help.
They’ve set up a Gofundme page, and Rob Wright, an accomplished artist who works with metal, is selling his art on Facebook and in the visitor centre at the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce building.
Wright refers to himself as an old, tough hockey guy. He previously coached the Nelson Leafs for three seasons, and still coaches Trafalgar Middle School’s hockey academy.
But he gets emotional when talking about his adopted family.
“This one here is so special,” he says while pointing at a picture of Estella. “We’re trying to build a future for her in Canada.”