Carol Woods was the mother of three small children (3, 8, 10) when she and her husband sponsored a brother(19) and sister (20) from Vietnam, 35 years ago. (Names are being withheld to respect privacy) Their lives would never be the same.
When Carol first picked up the siblings from a local hotel, they appeared with only a few bags each. Those bags were all they had brought along from their life in Vietnam. They had witnessed the destruction of their homes and families and were now starting a new life in a foreign country with virtually nothing.
The two young adults stayed with Carol and her family for 10 months. During this time, they laughed and cried together, learning from each other, as well as, about themselves.
Carol remembers the first time they took the young man skiing. He had never seen snow before and even though it was so much colder than his home country, he put on all his winter clothing, strapped on some skis and went flying down the hill. He was always “rough and ready”, wanting to make a new life for himself and his older sister. He was proactive at finding employment, landing his first job at a bakery, and aggressively worked at his English. The young woman, though shyer, was skilled with her hands and found employment as a seamstress.
Eventually, the siblings sponsored their remaining family to come to Calgary and make lives here. The brother’s four children now attend the University of Calgary while the sister is married with two children, who are working in the city after graduation from the University.
Carol and her family were dramatically impacted through the intersection of their lives with these young people from another land and culture. Carol went to work helping with the settlement of immigrant women. Carol’s husband helped NGO’s develop small businesses in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Carol’s son is currently sponsoring a refugee family from Syria. Two of Carol’s three daughters have an international component to their careers, working in Slovenia and Uganda.
“We cannot change their past but we can help them unpack and move on, so that they can start to live and love again.” Carol Woods
Carol says she could never have anticipated how opening their doors to two strangers from Vietnam would change her life and that of her family. Carol’s advice for groups sponsoring Syrian refugees is to listen to what the refugees are not saying: “When people are desperate, they speak in the language of the heart. We need to listen deeply to what the families are saying, to be that safe harbor for these families when they’re faced with an ocean of uncertainty and change.”