Surrey school district’s Welcome Centre and the Safe Schools Wraparound program tap Adopt-A-School in effort to keep kids at risk on a healthy path
The lot of the Soleil family, which came to Surrey in 2009 as refugees from the Congo wars, can be summed up in two words: triumph and tragedy.
Much of what has gone right for them can be laid at the door of Surrey school district’s Welcome Centre and the Safe Schools Wraparound program that offered them protection against hunger and been a constant source of support for this family that now consists of Jaqueline Soleil and seven children.
Eighteen-year-old Miriam doesn’t remember much about her homeland as she was a child when the family fled to a refugee camp in Burundi.
“Canada’s the only place I really know,” she said.
There were seven of them when they arrived, a father, mother and five children. Three children were then born in Canada, but the father and mother separated earlier this year.
It was never going to be easy transitioning into Canadian life after moving from equatorial Africa and the family would have been lost without the help from Safe Schools, says Miriam.
Miriam, who was interviewed with her mother, does the talking.
“My mother says when we came everything was very difficult. There was a language barrier and the whole culture was very different but in time we got used to it,” she said.
After speaking for her mother, she then speaks for herself.
“My mother never went to school as a child. She doesn’t know how to read or write, but her English is good.”
She says her mother suffered an injury during the birth of a son who is now six and has Down syndrome.
“They cut one of her kidney tubes. She’s on disability support from the government and has depression,” she said.“ They’ve suggested she doesn’t go to work because of the surgery and the depression, but she’s tried to find jobs.”
Five years ago, the Safe Schools team took note of the family’s problems and intervened, says team member Jon Ross.
“The mom has been diagnosed with having a significant level of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), so she will need a care plan if she goes to work,” said Ross.
“We have been working with the family and they are going to need continuing help. There are four young children,” he said.
The team consists of school district employees and RCMP officers, who help the most at-risk students in the district. Some of the students are involved with the criminal justice system.
They also help families where there is a likelihood that a child could be in danger of being criminally or personally exploited.
The Wrap project team is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $10,000 so it can help families with food, clothes and items for health and welfare which they have no other means of acquiring.
Miriam has a long list of what Safe Schools has done for them.
“When money was tight, they gave us gift cards, food hampers, bus tickets. When we had housing problems with a racist landlord, they helped us find a house,” she said.
This summer, her six-year-old brother clogged and broke a toilet at home. It had to be replaced.
“It was an accident, but it cost us all our money for food,” she said. It was the Wrap team that came in and kept them afloat with grocery gift cards for a month.
“When my mom goes through anything they are always there helping her. They have helped my brothers find jobs and helped us with clothes, and when my younger brother is not on the right path they push him hard to get back,” she said.
“They have been there with us through everything.”
Even the tragedy of death.
Two years ago one of her older brothers, Jean Claude, died suddenly and on top of the grief, sheer poverty prevented the family from being able to gather following his funeral for a reception.
“At the time there was a lot of stuff going on with them and a lot of suffering and it was one of those unresolved things. So for the family’s good, we helped them with a remembrance on the anniversary of his death,” said Ross.
“We were able to buy some food because of Adopt-A-School. Every family going through something as awful as losing a child and a brother needs to be able to do this and heal. And they are no different.”
Despite all they have gone through, Miriam has excelled in school and in life.
She finished Grade 12 this year and will be going to Texas Tech University on a scholarship.
“She’s a real inspiration and a role model to a lot of our youth as far as setting goals for themselves and then achieving them,” said Ross. “As a team, we’re very proud of her. And thankful we could help the family.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)