“it’s nice for them to know that people here are willing to accept them as part of our community.”– Carolyn Hobden, YWCA Settlement Services manager
YWCA Settlement Services Manager Carolyn Hobden said it’s been a challenge receiving a wave of newcomers this summer, but even more so for the families escaping to a foreign place.
About 130 refugees—the majority of them children—have arrived or are arriving in Prince Albert between May and September.
Hobden said they’re seeking refuge from several countries. A few are Malawi, Ethiopa, Thailand, Indonesia and Kenya.
Settlement Services is looking for donations, especially of school supplies such as backpacks and lunch bags.
“(Getting school supplies is) overwhelming for a parent who only has a couple of children and understands English. You can imagine that for a newcomer who has no grasp of the English language or even what some of these supplies mean,” said Hobden.
In addition, they’re in need of donations of toys, games and clothing for babies all the way up to teenagers.
Hobden encourages anyone who makes a donation to write a note welcoming them to the city: “Some people haven’t been welcome in the countries that they’ve left, so it’s nice for them to know that people here are willing to accept them as part of our community.”
She explained that staff will meet them at the airport and help them with their belongings, which is usually only a few suitcases. Then, they’ll get them set up with temporary accommodations before they help them settle in permanent ones, providing them with donated household necessities like kitchenware and furniture.
A local hotel has been helping them with a temporary place to stay, and the Mann Art Gallery and the Arts Centre are giving the kids a space to do arts and crafts until school starts.
From the time they arrive up until a year later, Settlement Services teach them new life skills through orientations.
“It’s learning lots of the ways of Canada that maybe are unfamiliar to them. I know one lady said she didn’t have to go out and get wood to do a fire anymore to cook breakfast for her family or go and get water, so it’s teaching them all the ways of how to use a stove, where to put your garbage. It’s all of the tiny little things that we have to teach them,” she said.
On Tuesday, Cst. Travis Willie from the police service spoke to the newcomers.
“Some of the countries where they come from, the police are not their friends. The police aren’t people who help them out,” explained Hobden. “(He) told them how the police are different here in Canada and how they’re here to help them and keep them safe.”
Another challenge is language barriers, she said, and this summer’s newcomers speak a few different languages. Most arrive speaking minimal English, if any, which is why Settlement Services provides English classes.
“It’s a big job and it’s a long process for some people. Some people pick up English very quickly. The children do pick it up very quickly, but for some adults especially, the older adults, they have never been to school maybe, or they’ve been only up to elementary school levels. It takes them a lot longer to be able to grasp the English language.”
They also help with employment, finances, medical needs and transit.
You can drop off donations at the Settlement Services office, which is the previous Wesley United Church, located at 65-11th St. E.