By Julie LeBlanc, special to Catholic Saskatoon News
A refugee family supported by E.D. Feehan Catolic High Catholic School staff and students (Catholic Saskatoon News November 23, 2021) is now making a new life in Saskatoon.
Since the launch of the GoFundMe refugee sponsorship fund-raising campaign by the local high school, donations from Saskatoon and across Canada supported the family, fleeing Afghanistan to Pakistan. The family finally arrived in Saskatoon at the end of summer 2022.
In Afghanistan, the mother of the family had worked to help women in abusive domestic situations find help and safety – saving as many as 200 to 300 women. The Taliban criminalized this work, which put the family in danger and precipitated their flight.
In early 2022, the family were hiding in Pakistan from government agents who would return them to the Taliban. Hearing of the Canadian support inspired their landlord to give them a month of free rent and groceries. The next month, after hearing their story, a friend of his gave money for another month of rent and groceries, expanding the circle of support in Pakistan. Someone even volunteered to tutor the children, since the whole family could not work or go to school. Support from Canada and from the local community lifted this family up and kept them safe.
The Canadian government approved the sponsorship application relatively quickly. However, the diplomatic discussions with the Pakistani government took several months. Eventually, the International Organization for Migration (UN), protected, fed, and housed the family for free. They were able to connect with other families in similar situations, register for permanent residency and attend workshops about life in Canada. Finally, E.D. Feehan graduate Saghar was able to receive her brother and family at the Saskatoon airport in August, 2022.
The past eight months in Saskatoon have brought the joys and challenges of building a life in an entirely new country and culture. All five family members live together.
Enrolled in Catholic school, the children love it so much that Ghias jokingly threatens to keep them home from school when they misbehave. The family connected with a local Ismali Muslim faith community early on after arriving in Canada. They go to prayers every week and can speak their own language there. The three adults are all employed, and in the process of seeking equivalency certifications to do similar work to what they were doing in Afghanistan.
Members of the settlement committee are overjoyed to visit with this family, celebrating birthdays and holidays together.
“Getting to know them has been incredible,” LeBlanc says. “They are beautiful, generous, and virtuous people.”
The family is so grateful for all the help they’ve received from the Catholic community of Saskatoon. Ghias spoke to E.D. Feehan staff and students at the opening Mass of the school year. “In the Qu’ran, it says that if you save one human life, you have saved the whole world,” he said, “and we are so thankful for all you have done for us.”
LeBlanc feels strongly that Ghias and Nabila are the true heroes. “Through this whole process, even though it was scary and overwhelming, and there were times I didn’t know how it would work out, my family and I were never in any danger. We were never going to be arrested for helping this family. But they really did put themselves in a lot of danger to help others. I want to be more like them in their goodness, in their generosity, in their courage. I feel grateful just to know these people and to have become friends. When this process began, I had no idea what it was going to demand of me, but I also had no idea how much it was going to give to me and transform my life.”