A chance meeting near Istanbul has a Fruitvale couple awaiting the arrival of a new house guest, hopefully in time for her 29th birthday.
“It really was serendipity,” says Melva Scott. “All along I felt this was meant to be and she was just going to come. But the not knowing, has been very stressful for her.”
Scott was speaking of Rahaf, a bright young Syrian woman who may be the area’s first refugee, if all goes according to plan.
Educated in the ancient city of Damascus, the English-speaking Syrian fled her country in 2014 along with her father and brother.
“We are so thankful for Skype – we can see her, talk to her, and we’ve met her family that way,” said Melva, mentioning the first plane carrying refugees from Turkey to Canada landed Jan. 21.
“We may only get 48 hours notice before she arrives, which is fine for us, but we hope she gets more time than that,” she added. “It’s going to rip her father’s heart out when she leaves without him, so we are hoping to send them to Ankara and they get some time together at the airport before saying good-bye.”
The story began last fall when Melva and her husband Ian embarked on a cruise that included a stopover in Turkey. They never imagined that a spur of the moment boat trip down the Bosporus Strait would lead to a retail clerk named Rahaf and within months, a sponsorship to bring her to Canada.
“It was just happenstance that we met this young lady, she was working in a souvenir shop,” Melva explained. “She helped us with Turkish apple tea glasses that I was looking for, and said she would wrap (the set) so we could take it in our luggage.”
After walking through the scenic outskirt of Istanbul, the Scotts returned to pick up the delicate keepsakes.
Melva recalls the evasiveness of the store owner, and his demeanor when he spoke to Rahaf in Arabic.
“She walked away and I could tell she was upset,” Melva shared. “So I went over and asked her if she was okay.
“Something he said, set her off, and she didn’t want her boss to see her crying.”
The Scotts had a little more time before meeting up with the boat tour, so they stayed behind to talk with Rahaf.
Before leaving the store, the couple passed along their name and phone number, and jotted down the young woman’s email.
Arriving back home in mid-October, the Scotts could not stop thinking about the dark-haired woman.
“We just both started thinking if there was any way we could bring her to Canada,” added Melva.
After a whirlwind of meetings with local groups for support and advice, a sponsorship agreement through the East Kootenay Friends of Burma, a letter writing campaign to government, and keeping in touch with Rahaf via the Internet, the Scotts are hopeful she will arrive any day now.
Rahaf’s refugee application was approved in early January and the required medical evaluation was completed Jan. 14. Since then it’s been an anxious waiting game on both continents.
Recently, a suicide bomber tried to blow up an army base just down the road from where Rahaf works sometimes 10 to 14 hours a day, for 10 days at a time.
“It’s only been two weeks since her medical, but time seems to be dragging,” said Melva. “We would just like to get her out of there as quickly as possible. It’s the not knowing, if they could just give us a date.”
Bringing Rahaf to the West Kootenay is just the beginning for the area, as community groups gather and ready themselves to sponsor Syrian refugee families in the coming months.
Friends of Refugees Trail formed in December, and hopes to have a family here by Easter.
“We have to start raising money, and I believe we have support here,” Lloyd Joyce said during a Friday gathering. “This whole community is based on immigrants and families who came here years ago.”
For information about the group, visit friendsofrefugeestrail.com. To donate and join the cause, call Dennis Cook at 368.9292, Lloyd Joyce, 364.3020 or Einer Knudsgaard at 364.0397.
West Kootenay Friends of Refugees (WKFoR) is expecting a Syrian family of four to arrive in Rossland later this month.
The Castlegar Refugee Project has been meeting since October in hopes of bringing a family to the city by spring.
A minimum of $20,000 must be raised for sponsorship. To help the local causes, the WKFoR is hosting a fundraising concert with proceeds being divided between the groups.
Music in Vienna, featuring Carolyn Cameron on violin and pianist Dawna Kavanaugh, is slated for the Muriel Griffiths Room on Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
“We desperately want people to attend,” says Dennis Cook. “We are limited to 100 seats and only have 20 filled. We are reaching out to the whole community because we need to start raising funds, right now.”
Admission is complimentary with a donation to the WKFOR.
To RSVP, email Melva Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.