The state of affairs in the world today starts with helping one person. That’s what a small group of citizens from Chemainus, Ladysmith, Duncan and Nanaimo is doing to at least make a difference in one Afghani woman’s life.
That’s one small step for a woman, one giant leap for humankind.
“Here’s a situation where you can help an individual,” said Rev. Elise Feltrin of the Chemainus United Church, who’s part of the group formed to sponsor a female Afghani refugee through the Cowichan Intercultural Society.
‘Friba’ will be settling in Chemainus as soon as her file is approved.
An Afghani afternoon fundraiser has been set up for Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Chemainus United Church, 9814 Willow St.
To raise money for her airfare, the event will include book readings as well as tea and sweets for people to enjoy while learning more about what life is like in Afghanistan and the hardships faced by women under Taliban rule. Selections will be read from Afghani author Nadia Hashimi’s novel ‘A House Without Windows’ and from journalist Carol Off’s book ‘All We Leave Behind.’
“Off writes about the brutality of life in Afghanistan and some of the challenges faced in the immigration process,” Feltrin indicated. “Hearing these personal stories helps us to understand the history and culture of the Afghani people and will hopefully inspire people to help change one Afghani woman’s life. Tea and Afghani-inspired sweets donated by local bakeries will be served following the readings.”
Tickets to the event are $20, available at both Owl’s Nest Bakery Bistro locations or by calling 250-245-1457. Doors open at 1:45 p.m. at the Chemainus United Church, with the book readings from 2-3 p.m., followed by tea and sweets downstairs at the church from 3-4 p.m.
There will also be door prizes and a silent auction. Donations will be greatly accepted towards Friba’s airfare, with charitable receipts provided.
Tallman of Ladysmith, the group leader, explained this is being conducted by a private sponsorship group under an official designation by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, “which means that all funds raised to support Friba must come from donations from community members. No government funds are involved, other than the government loan for her airfare, which needs to be paid back to the government over five years. There are other programs by which refugees come into Canada, such as Government Assisted Refugees, in which case their costs for the first year here are covered by government. But for Friba, all funding is from community sources.”
Tallman added the private sponsorship group operating under the auspices of Cowichan Intercultural Society is responsible for raising all the funds required to support her for the first year here. That includes a $20,000 requirement which has already been raised before an application can be submitted to IRCC.
Tallman said Friba graduated with a master’s degree in 2020.
“The challenges of being a progressive and educated woman in Afghanistan are well-known and after receiving post-graduate degrees in a neighbouring country, Friba cannot safely return to her homeland,” added Feltrin.
Tallman pointed out the four reasons why that’s the case: 1. she’s a woman; 2. she’s an educated woman; 3. she’s Hazara, a religious minority; and 4. she was an advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
“All four of those things are against her,” said Tallman. “If she ever went back there, she’d be in big trouble.”
Under a United Nations special program, she qualified as a refugee and was fortunate a professor connected her with CIS.
A letter she wrote was posted in a newsletter that went out to CIS members.
“I saw it there,” said Tallman. “I phoned reception at CIS and nobody responded.”
He decided to see if he could form a sponsorship group.
“Within five minutes, the coordinator called me. This was getting serious and I thought I’d better do this.”
Tallman checked around, met Feltrin at the United Church and “here we are,” he said. “We have a core group of five people. The group itself is about eight or nine now.”
Strong community support from Chemainus and Ladysmith put the wheels in motion.
“In order to kick start the paperwork, you need to have raised $20,000,” Feltrin indicated.
Since May that’s been accomplished and “now we’re essentially in that next stage,” she added. “The paperwork is happening.
“There’s other things that need to happen from her end. We do our part and you send it all over there and that part has to happen.”
The fundraiser will provide the airfare for the woman to arrive here. “We want to take that load off her shoulders,” said Tallman of the requirement for refugees to pay that back.
“Fluent in English, Friba has already been promised a job at the Owl’s Nest Bakery and accommodation with a local family,” Feltrin pointed out. “The sponsorship group continues to raise funds to help support Friba’s transition to life in Chemainus for the first year after her arrival and are confident she will offer a significant contribution to Canadian society.”
“We’re expecting and hoping to have her here by the end of the year,” said Tallman. “I sure hope that happens.”