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This past July I had the incredible privilege of spending a week at Sorrento Centre with three families who recently came to Canada as refugees. Originally from Burma, Kler Taw, Ehmoo Si and their two children have been in Canada since 2009, but never traveled beyond the boundaries of metro Vancouver. An extended family that arrived in August 2013, from a large refugee camp in Kenya included; grandmother, Drocella Mukambonera, daughter, Marie Claire along with her daughter Bijoux, and daughter Angelique and her son Trevor. They left Rwanda when civil war erupted in 1991. Ghidey Abay and her four children, Haben, Sosina, Million, Yossan, came from Eritrea a small country located in the Horn of Africa near the Gulf of Aden. They were granted refugee status in Canada recently.

Dr. Christopher Lind, then-Director of Sorrento Centre approached the Diocese of New Westminster for funding for the program 3 years ago. This arose from discussions Chris had with the Rev. Margaret Marquardt and Mambo Masinda (my co-leader for the 2014 session) who have organized the details of the program for these past 3 years. For many, the program affords the first opportunity to talk about the past and come to terms with the upheaval and trauma of their lives prior to arriving in Canada.

We arrived at the Sorrento Centre at 4pm on a hot Sunday afternoon. We spent some time exploring the grounds before the dinner gong invited us all to our first dinner – a delicious BBQ with fresh salads and a delicious cake for dessert. Eating in community with the other visitors to Sorrento was a great way to get to know each other, share some stories, and relax after the long drive from Vancouver.

On the Monday morning, the children met the youth leaders and happily went off to their programs whilst the adults settled in. Our program for the week, Welcome to the Refugees around Us, was built around several themes: shared experience, how values evolve and change, resilience, spirituality, and a prayerful focus on the role of hope in the lives of families and humanity as a whole. The mornings were set aside for this task, while afternoons were free for swimming or going on outings.

None of the refugees can swim but all had great fun splashing around in Shuswap Lake. Our group was invited to Sorrento Farm to harvest fresh organic vegetables to take home. Everyone found deep pleasure in being on the farm, digging into the rich soil for the harvest – Drocella was even moved to chant a prayer to the land.

Our final session focused on gratitude. Marie Claire, a young mother from Rwanda, expressed herself in no uncertain terms, “I have a traffic jam of thanksgiving in my head!” It was a wonderful note on which to end the week.

Without the generous support of the Diocese and each parish, it would not have been possible for this program to take place as none of the refugees would have had the financial means to participate. On behalf of all who participated I would like to say THANK-YOU!

Below is a letter, written by Kler Taw, expressing what the week meant for him and his family. Kler Taw’s English has dramatically improved over the past five years; it is a great joy to see that he can so clearly articulate his gratitude, despite his still-growing understanding of English.

by Saw Kler Taw
Our Memorable Vacation to Sorrento Centre

The first of all I am very much grateful to the Lord for giving me godly friends such as Wilna Parry, Dave, and Anglican Churches because they had arrangement for my family.
Going to the Sorrento Centre is very good to my family for learning, sharing, and belonging. My family and I were invited to Sorrento Centre for the Refugee Course was really good.
For the first thing, Sorrento Centre is nice place for my family to spend the time together, learned God’s words together, and swimming together. We spent our time there for a week, but not enough for my kids, they didn’t want to come back home because they loved swimming and playing, they missed their friends and teachers (staffs/ volunteers).
For another thing, my wife and I were so pleased to share our story to other people and they shared their story to us; therefore, we learned from each other and we knew we came from the same difficult situation and similar complicated countries. By the grace of God, we were brought over here (peaceful land).
Finally, the program was very good to my family because staffs were very kind to the children; therefore, my kids learned many things such as dancing, singing, drawing, and performing. Moreover, they let us to visit the amazing places like Margaret Falls, Donkey Valley, the Old St. Mary Church, and Sorrento’s farm in the afternoons. We saw beautiful views, and we received the fresh air when we were going on our way.
Going to the Sorrento Centre is my memorable experience because it is a holy place of transformation for learning, healing, and belonging.

Images: Top and homepage, Kler Taw and Eh ThaNay explore the Sorrento Farm. Upper right, Margaret Falls is one of Sorrento’s many photo ops. Lower left, Marie Claire at Sorrento Farm with some good looking raspberries. Below, the whole group attending Welcome to the Refugees around Us. The author is in the middle, back row with sunglasses.

PHOTOS: Wilna Parry