The West Kootenay Friends of Refugees (WKFoR) welcomed their second sponsored family on Wednesday, August 26.
Twenty-nine year old Ruta Zakarias Yohannes is a refugee from Eritrea, Africa. She arrived from a refugee camp in Cairo with her two sons, Eyobed Gideon Melake, who turned five the day they arrived, and Yonathan Gideon Melake, age four.
Ruta fled Eritrea after her husband didn’t come home one day. She hasn’t seen him since.
“What was happening was that officials were putting pressure on her to say where her husband was, and the story we have anyway, is that she didn’t know where he was,” said Jan Micklethwaite, a WKFoR volunteer, “but that it’s very common in Eritrea for people to disappear and never be seen again. You know, the jails are filled with political prisoners.”
Ruta escaped Eritrea and made it to Cairo where she and her boys lived for a year and a half, and where she applied to immigrate to Canada as a refugee.
Two other women from the camp have also immigrated to the Kootenays. Both Helen and Salam live in Nelson, and know Ruta from the camp.
“What’s really cool is that they had met … Ruta when they were all in the refugee camp in Cairo,” said Micklethwaite. “So when we had decided to sponsor her we didn’t know about them and we didn’t know there was this connection.”
Helen and Salam surprised Ruta and her children at the airport on Wednesday, along with members of the WKFoR.
Ruta speaks some English, but her primary language is Tigrinya and knowing other Eritreans in the area will give her the opportunity to keep speaking it.
The WKFoR will help Ruta learn more English and train for a job.
Eyobed will be starting school in September, but Yonathan will need other opportunities to start learning English, like the Strong Start program. The program requires parents to attend with their children, so Ruta would also have the opportunity to learn more English, and would get to meet other parents with children the same age.
The Canadian government will give Ruta a small stipend for the first six months she’s in Canada, and the WKFoR will help pay for anything not covered by the stipend and for any expenses during the following six months, at which point they hope she’ll have a job that will allow her to support herself.
Ruta is currently living in lower Rossland, but the WKFoR is looking for an apartment for her that is closer to the school, as she doesn’t have a car.