Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 22, 1999
A warm reception
CSS' Reception House gives new immigrants an intro to life in Canada
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The apartments at Reception House are modestly furnished. There is a couch, a few tables, dining set, TV, bunk beds, dishes and cutlery. Nothing fancy, just the basics. But for some of the residents, it's a grand hotel.
After just one night at the house, an Iraqi family called it "paradise."
Reception House, a nine-suite apartment building operated by Catholic Social Services, is a walk away from the river valley in Edmonton's north end. It's a temporary residence for new government-sponsored immigrants.
"We try to make it as much of a home for them as we can," said the program coordinator, Halina Ciecko-Sawicka. "We try to make them feel welcome and safe . . . but also encourage independence."
Newcomers reside at the house for two weeks. During that time, they are assisted by staff members who orient them in their new homeland. Shopping trips, familiarity with city transit, recognizing currency and adjusting the thermostat are all part of helping the newcomers adapt to their new home.
The house is also a home base for cooking and life skills classes for newcomers.
The emphasis of Reception House is independence.
"We show the families how to live on their own," Ciecko-Sawicka said.
The house opened 11 years ago. Today it has four staff members and a handful of interpreters who visit daily.
"Having someone who speaks their language makes it very comforting for them when they get off the plane," Ciecko-Sawicka said. "Many of them come here not knowing anyone, not knowing what will happen. When they can communicate in their own language, they feel safer."
The house is comforting for the newcomers. Ciecko-Sawicka said Reception House is more personal than living in a motel, where the newcomers were temporarily housed before the house opened.
The house has a gathering room on the main floor where everyone comes to socialize and have group meals. Each apartment has its own kitchen suite and residents are encouraged to cook for themselves after the first few days.
The house rules are basic - be back by 10 p.m. and respect your fellow residents.
A few weeks ago the house was empty. It was a prime time for staff to catch up on their cleaning and other housework. Four suites are now occupied. Ciecko-Sawicka said she is expecting about 76 newcomers to the house before the end of the year.
Bosnian Nevenka Sajlovic and her son Branislav have been at the house more than a week. They've had a tour of the city, via city transit and look forward to moving into their own apartment.
Abel Cathpuou Magok and his family have been at the house since Oct. 26.
Magok is just getting over an upset stomach. Although the cold winds are a shock for Magok, who comes from Sudan, it hasn't "bothered me very much yet."
He's just happy to be in a country free of political corruption, military regimes and social persecution.
Akol Them Arob and his family of four arrived at the same time as the Magoks.
Also from Sudan, the Arob family came to Canada knowing nothing about it. Nonetheless, he is prepared to take on any job open to him and provide his children with the best possible education.
The newest family at the house spent nine years at a refugee camp in Iraq before coming to Canada. At the camp, they slept in tents and endured howling desert winds. Food was scarce; dust was plentiful.
The family hesitated to give their name.
"We are happy to be here," said the father. "It's clean here, it's quiet."
The immigrants at Reception House have no family or peer support here, other than CSS staff, but they are comfortable knowing there is potential for them.
Opportunity is a word used most often by the immigrants. Opportunity for work. Opportunity for education. And most important, opportunity for their children.
"They've all come here for a better life," Ciecko-Sawicki said. "A high percentage of them when they first arrive are elated. It's a honeymoon stage."