Completing a six-year journey from Eritrea in East Africa, the first refugees of a recent wave have hit the Parksville Qualicum Beach shore.
Musa Hodale Ali and Mohammed Subhat arrived on Vancouver Island on March 9, and within a week had among the most Canadian jobs possible, at Tim Hortons.
The NEWS caught up with Hodale Ali there recently, where he was happy to be working, as much for the social exposure and something to do, while he explores his options.
“Working is good, rather than sitting at home,” he said in fluent, but heavily-accented English.
A high school teacher back home who studied applied physics and economics, Hodale Ali admits he’s looking for more skilled work, but is quick to add that he’s basically just arrived and is giving himself time to adapt.
He said he has been to the Career Centre in Parksville and has been on a few trips around the area, including venturing into Nanaimo.
Sponsored by local Tim Hortons owners Ed and Lilian Mayne and the Qualicum Community Baptist Church, Hodale Ali said it was a surprising coincidence that he ended up being paired with the younger Subhat.
They were from the same hometown, which he described as a population like Parksville, but a very different place.
Being different ages, they weren’t friends until they ended up in the same refugee camp in neighbouring Ethiopia years later.
Lilian Mayne previously said that they wanted to help refugees in light of the Syria crisis, providing a rental unit they own, but they felt better prepared to host individuals rather than a family and when they requested people who spoke some English, the men from Eritrea came up as an option.
“These two gentlemen are in quite as much need as anybody else,” she said.
According to the UN High Commission on Refugees in 2015 more than 40,000 Eritreans applied for asylum from government repression.
After several years of being forced to teach for free in the national service, Hodale Ali left Eritrea in 2009 and spent most of the last six years in refugee camps in Ethiopia, where he said it was a constant struggle just to survive.
Weeks into his new Canadian adventure, the new arrival still seems a bit overwhelmed and said he doesn’t have any friends here yet.
Asked about differences between Eritreans and Canadians he chuckled and said his first impression is “everybody is very friendly and very busy, but I’m brand new, I’m not going to understand everything in two weeks.”
Get information or assist the Mayne’s effort (email@example.com) through the Qualicum Community Baptist Church (250-752-9123, 600 Beach Rd.) or Tim Hortons.
There are currently at least 16 private refugee sponsorship efforts like this one, separate from the government sponsored efforts, in the mid-Island, including two others in Parksville Qualicum Beach, one through the Church of the Ascension Refugee Sponsorship Committee (250-954-1991) in Parksville, and the other through the Qualicum Refugee Support Group with St. Marks Anglican Church (firstname.lastname@example.org, 250-974-7031).