Selem, a refugee from Eritea, arrived in Nelson on June 25 from a refugee camp in Egypt. Four of her five children are still in a different refugee camp.
Selem is in her forties and speaks the Tigrina language and basic Arabic. She will be living with a family in Nelson and eventually her sponsor, the Nelson Refugee Coalition, will find an apartment for her.
Coalition co-chair Reverend David Boyd of the Nelson United Church says the group has taken on responsibility for helping Selem adjust to Canadian life. They will support her financially for six months, and the federal government will support her for a further six months although the local group may top up the government contribution.
“After a year,” said Boyd, “we will still continue with support, but what that means remains to be seen. It depends on her language skills and we don’t know what her job skills are. We received limited information about this from the government.
“The next months will be a process of getting to know her and what her needs and issues are and working with her to get acclimatized to Canadian culture.”
Selem speaks almost no English. On her arrival a young Tigrina-speaking refugee from Cranbrook helped with translation, but he was only here for one day. Two members of the refugee committee speak Arabic.
The coalition has organized a fundraising art show that will take place at the Baker St. restaurant Mana’eesh. Bold as Hope, a new coffee blend created by Oso Negro for this occasion, will be for sale at Mana’eesh and elsewhere, and a portion of the coffee proceeds will go toward supporting Selem.
On September 25, singers Allison Girvan and Noemi Kiss, along with cellist Tibo Kolmel and others will present a fundraising concert, Cello and Song, at the Anglican Church.
The Nelson refugee coalition has existed on and off since the nineties under different names. During that time it has brought to Nelson refugees from Colombia, Burma, Togo, and the Balkans.
The current membership of the coalition includes three former refugees and others with local and international experience in peace and justice work.
Boyd said that the group’s sponsorship of Selem will not only help her but make it more likely her children will be able to join her.
“This can tell the world that love and community will win over violence and oppression,” he said. “We would like to do more, but this is an example for the world community. What happens to people in the rest of the world impacts us here. So the symbolic nature of us being a part of a world community is very important.”
Madlyn McKay, the other co-chair of the coalition, says the group welcomes new members and has some immediate needs in getting Selem settled.
“Our biggest need,” she says, “is volunteers to help selling coffee at the markets, helping with hospitality, and with teaching English. People who want to help should call me at (250) 505-4122.”