This is a story with more than one happy ending.
As 2020 winds down, we thought we would share an update which comes to us all the way from British Columbia.
In the summer of 2016, Pleasant Corners Public School teacher Lisa Jennings spearheaded a venture that would result in bringing families to Canada, and specifically, to Vankleek Hill. That initiative was called, “Opportunity Knox.”
The aim was to provide a safe haven and the opportunity for a better life in the Vankleek Hill area for refugee families, through sponsorship and financial support; offering care, lodging, and settlement assistance. The mission included working with the entire community to achieve this goal — and of course, it included ongoing fundraising — about $40,000 was needed to bring a family here. More funds were raised to bring a single student to this community.
You may have followed the fundraising events, of which there were many. But for privacy reasons and to allow these new residents to settle in, there were no photographs in this newspaper and no articles.
The Hami family arrived in Vankleek Hill in the fall of 2018. The challenges were many, as Mahmoud and Hahjra spoke no English, no French, but a dialect called Kurmanji. Many local folks were involved in assisting them to adapt to life here, which included English-language lessons. It was difficult for them and in fact, many families who located to small communities in Canada encountered the same issues: isolation, lack of employment and of course, the stress that can come with a complete change of culture.
The Hami family members were provided with food, shelter, appointments with professionals, English teachers, and the two children went to Pleasant Corners Public School. The family moved to Ottawa under a different government program in the summer of 2019, and have since moved to Quebec City where they have relatives. They have a safe haven in Canada and the kids are thriving.
Samih Salta arrived in the spring of 2019. Of Syrian heritage, he spoke fluent Arabic, and good English. A young man of deep faith and conviction, he read a lot, worked hard at Beau’s and, well, mostly talked on the phone with his newfound love, Katherine, whom he had met in Syria just before leaving for Canada. In the summer of 2020, he left Vankleek Hill for British Columbia and started working for a Christian organization that provides housing for marginalized and challenged individuals. However, Samih had his heart set on attending Regent College and entering into the Master of Divinity Program. He applied and was successful in obtaining funds covering half of his tuition. He also received a scholarship for attending the College. Samih’s entire tuition for the duration of his Master of Divinity is now covered. He and Katherine were married at Thanksgiving. It was a virtual wedding with guests, literally, from all over the world!
“It was a deeply personal and immensely joyful wedding ceremony. The day was small and simple but a true representation of who we are as a couple. We had a small reception dinner afterwards. It was a perfect day,” writes Katherine Moloney of their wedding day.
“Samih is in the final sprint in his studies, with the finish line in sight. Other than that, we are gearing up for our third Christmas together. Our first was in Lebanon when we were first dating – we went to church and then made the most sensational gingerbread house you have ever seen! Our second was in Vankleek Hill, not long after I’d arrived in Canada – we were invited to an incredible Christmas lunch at Donna and Leslie Dandy’s place. Our third will be in our city, Vancouver, where we’ll navigate the Covid-19 restrictions and again have a fabulous day!” writes Katherine.
The couple now lives in a small basement suite in Vancouver. They arrived in Vancouver in March, right before interprovincial flights were shut down due to COVID-19. The reason Vancouver, so that Samih could pursue his studies.
“Despite the Covid-19 restrictions, we’ve built up a wonderful community of friends and made Vancouver our home. But Vankleek Hill will always hold a special place in our hearts for the life-changing gift that Opportunity Knox gave us and for the wonderful friends we made there,” says Katherine.
Spokespersons for Opportunity Knox say that they will welcome a new family to Vankleek Hill when COVID19 restrictions have been lifted and they note that thanks to local generosity, funds have already been set aside to cover the local portion of the costs.