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The James Bay Refugee Initiative (launched in faith during worship in James Bay United Church in 2015) is composed of several people from our church and many more from the broader community. The Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria connected us with Leyla, a 25-year-old Syrian Refugee in late 2016. We spent most of a year fund-raising in order to bring Leyla to Victoria and support her for one year.

Leyla arrived at the Victoria Airport on April 13, 2017, having traveled for almost 48 hours through 3 countries and 4 airports in order to get here. She did not know, until she changed planes in Vancouver, that there would be people to meet her and support her as she made her way in this new land. Imagine the courage!

To augment the English Leyla had taught herself solely by listening to English language songs, she began full-time English classes at Camosun College. She worked hard and did well, and not wanting to rest on her academic laurels, Leyla enrolled in a 2-month, 5-day-a-week employment workshop and was the first of her cohort to find employment. Leyla is now employed at Visions Optical and says she can imagine a future there.

James Bay United Church played a crucial role in Leyla’s sponsorship, and she is very grateful. In Leyla’s own words...

Hello everyone,

To all friends who I know and I don’t know I write this letter to thanks everyone help and support me to be here in Canada.

I write this letter with entire love and respect and appreciation for what you did for me. At first I want you to know that I was waiting for this opportunity to be here a year ago before I come as many people are waiting and dreaming to get what I got - it was dream and come true. In fact not all people are as lucky as me, not because only I’m here but also I have so many friends who support me and encourage me to continue and help me find my way to the new future.

Life is not easy in our homelands and many of us give up to leave in difficult circumstances because they have no other choice. But I have given this opportunity to live a better life and help my family in future as well but even here isn’t easy without people support and love you, so thank you all for that.

Other thing I want you to know that it is not easy to migrate from one country to another, especially since you don’t know anything about the country and its customs and rules and people.

When I arrived in Vancouver I had no idea what was waiting me here or any idea about people who being waiting for me who brought me to Canada. I was thinking that the government only sponsored me. I really scared when the officer told me that I had sponsor group waiting for you because I didn’t know any of them and I was afraid to meet them.

When I arrived at the airport and l meet Sabine and Mona (ed.: Manager of Private Sponsorships and interpreter from the Intercultural Association) they told me a little about the sponsors.

At that time I start feel comfortable and I was ready to meet them we walked to them and I saw how they are happy all of them smiling to me from heart. One of them had a nice flower and other had big board write on “ف ك توري ا إل ى ت رح يب ف ي ك توري ا ف ي ب كم مرح با Welcome”. It was amazing. I really appreciate and I was happy. Yes, that why I want be here. It seems like what I dream about and more.

Since that time those people become my family and my friends and my big support here in Victoria. I will never forget that day and after that I get know there many of this people try hard to bring me here. To everyone for everything they did for me thank you. I’m really grateful to what you did. I don’t denying that I feel lonely without my husband and I don’t denying that I miss my family, parents, sister and brother but thank God I have all of this people. I’m fortunate to have them those people with me as a family. They have been with me step by step. They make my life easier here. I wondered about refugees who don’t have this people, how it will be difficult for them. Also thanks for the church for helping and supporting me and the rest of refugees from different country.

Thank you from my heart for the humanity they have and I respect and appreciate all of that my words isn’t enough to say. Thank you all, with my love and respect.

Leyla S.

Respectfully submitted by Aleksa Harkness for the James Bay Refugee Initiative