Robertson Wesley's refugee sponsorship program began, as in most churches and community groups, in 1979, with the influx of the Vietnamese "boat people". Two church members agreed to assist with the settlement of two young Vietnamese boys, Chung and Ti Trang. Following this experience, a Vietnamese family of three, the Luongs, were officially sponsored by Robertson Wesley in 1980. The responsibility entailed being responsible for the family's settlement and living expenses for one year, helping them with medical and dental care, suitable accommodation, assistance in finding employment, English lessons and general orientation to the community. With the unexpected arrival in the city of extended family members including the Luong's mother and two sisters, responsibilities for the family increased. They were assisted by a refugee committee consisting of Ed and Isabel Verdin, Lorna and Louis Berlinguette and Garnet and Ann Thomas. Victor and Debbie Luong eventually purchased a house and their son Victor attended University. (they anglicized their first names), With the exception of one family member with neurological problems who has received assistance, all the Luongs have been self-supporting after the first year.
In l987 a sponsorship was submitted for Salvadoreans Jaime and Sonia Martinez and daughter Beatriz, acting on an appeal from Jaime's brother Jose, an Edmonton resident. Jaime, an accountant in a bank, had been picked up by the Salvadorean "death squad"for no apparent cause, and imprisoned for three months, only released with the help of Amnesty International. He was in hiding, and his family were being watched to determine his whereabouts. While our sponsorship was being processed, the family managed to escape to Mexico, and eventually slipped across the border to Los Angeles, where another brother was living. They remained in L.A., with no income and in very crowded living conditions until April 1989,when Canada Immigration finally allowed them into the country. (Meanwhile we had been writing letters trying to expedite their arrival, and sending them money periodically which depleted our Refugee Fund). Their story is a most successful one. After a year or so of English language classes and tutoring by church members, Sonia and Jaime both found regular employment. Their family increased with the arrival of Pamela in '92, Rebecca in '96 and Alesandro in 2000. Sonia now works at the General Hospital as a palliative care nursing assistant, Jaime has worked for many years as a maintenance worker for Edmonton Public Schools as well as as a private cleaning contractor, and Beatriz has graduated as a nurse. Jaime and Sonia are wonderful parents, and it is a delight to such a caring and appreciative family settled well in the community.
With the Martinez family becoming settled, RW commenced sponsorship proceedings in 1990 for Peter Cesnek, a 22-year old Czechoslovakian boy from Bratislava who had finished a 3 year artistic blacksmithing course, and had worked in the trade for 2 years. He had been involved in anti-government demonstrations in then-Communiist Czechoslovakia, and for political reasons had fled to Austria. His sister and brother=in-law Milan Jalsovsky approached us to sponsor Peter, who arrived in April, 1991, and endeared himself to the congregation with his friendly personality. There was very little monetary expenditure in his sponsorship. He was given five months'English training by the government, and then departed in October for Coquitlam, B.C., where he still lives.
Several other sponsorships have not been successful. We submitted a sponsorship for Cesal Rodriguez and his mother Inez Henriquez in 1990, as requested by Salvadorean Social Services and their relatives Jose and Rosa Acevido, recently arrived refugees. Cesar, an agricultural engineering technologist from El Salvador, was eventually offered a government sponsorship, but his mother was rejected as being unemployable". We wrote letters of appeal, to no avail. Cesar would not leave without his mother, so his sponsorship expired.
In 1993 we applied to sponsor Sudanese refugees Nyafransa Elsir, and the Peter Gatluak family. Forms were filled out, and moneys raised, but somehow the refugees were not located by the Canada Immigration offices in London and Nairobi. (Nyafransa had been displaced to Norway, and the Gatluak family to Ethiopia, due to political turmoil and persecution in the southern Sudan where they originally lived.) Numerous inquiries through family members here did not seem to help, and the sponsorships eventually expiered.
South African refugees, Shogane and Mpho Cho Cho were informally assisted in 1993-94 , since they were left without means of support when Shogane's student visa ran out and he was unable to find work here until he received immigrant status. They were members of the church with a two year old son. Shogane was working, Mpho attending school.
We were co-sponsors, with the government, under the "disabled refugee program" of a Somalian family, the Abdurahmans - Shoble (41), his wife and four young children and a disabled sister-in-law. Shoble was an accountant for seven years in Saudi Arabia working for Saudii Telephone before he returned to Somalia to start his own bookkeeping business. In 1991 his home which also housed his business was attacked and destroyed by fire. At the same time his wife's family home was destroyed, leaving only her sister H Najmah Maslah alive. In her attempt to escape, Najmah was shot in the back. They all fled to Kenya to a UNHCR camp but Najmah is now a paraplegic. The family required much assistance in their settlement, though were funded by the government. We helped in finding housing, employment, schooling, etc. and we were able to obtain a wheelchair and medical treatment at the Glenrose Hospital for Najmah. The family welcomed two more children after their arrival.
In 1999 RW was involved in the assistance of the Gervalla family, Sevdije and Agim, daughters Teuta and Besa, with their grandpa, from Kosovo. This was a large government sponsored project, and involved much time but little money; the family were very traumatized due to the conflict they were escaping from We also submitted a sponsorship for their daughter Ardita (Gervalla) Cakaj and family,but without success. Agim and Sevdije successfully operated a daycare business in Edmonton, but they have since moved to Coquitlam, B.C., and we were invited to Teuta's wedding there in 2010. Besa is now married and living in London England.
In 1999 we submitted a sponsorship for Eritrean refugee Azalech Amdemichael, the sister of Amarech (Sara) and Damenech (Ruta) Amdemichael, two girls who had been members of RW since they had been sponsored by an aunt several years previously. Azalech arrived a few years later, via Cairo, and has since moved to Manitoba, is married and has a family there. The Amdemichaels have worked very hard, sponsored their mother and father and younger brother Tedla to come to Edmonton and bought a house. They are still valued members of the congregation.
In 2003 RW submitted another sponsorship for Peter Wabwire, a 15 year old Ugandan boy whose only relative, brother Salim lives in Edmonton. Salim appealed through his ESL teacher for our help.to sponsor his brother. Peter's family had all been killed in the civil war in Uganda; he eventually escaped to Nairobi Kenya, and was living with a family friend. We regularly sent him funds, but after several years he was interviewed by Canada Immigration and rejected. Our appeals were unsuccessful.
Our Faith and Mission
We believe that hospitality to the refugee in our midst is fundamental to the Gospel of Christ and God's way of working in the world. Therefore it is basic and central to our faith and mission as a church.