Single mother with seven kids flees violence in South Sudan to find new home in Summerland

Refugee family now home

The community of Summerland has welcomed a new family from South Sudan comprised of a single mother with her seven children finally able to start a new life in their new home after years as refugees.

Ajah Ayuen fled violence and war with her family and has been living in a hut at the United Nations' Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya for 18 long years. All but one of her children were born at the camp, making that the only life they have known until now.

“I am happy to now be in Canada,” says Ajah.

“I am happy all my children are safe and will be able to go to school. When I go to bed at night, I am happy. When I wake up in the morning, I am happy.”

They arrived on Nov. 11 with the support of the Summerland Refugee Sponsorship Group (SRSG) and spent two weeks quarantining, having all been tested twice for COVID-19 before leaving Africa, then twice again since arrival.

SRSG is a non-profit registered charity made up of 85 volunteers who have assisted with resettling refugees from Syria and Eritrea in the past. They signed this latest sponsorship agreement with the federal government in October 2019, but the pandemic got in the way.

"On three occasions, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada asked us, given the uncertainty, whether we still wanted to sponsor the family. Each time we re-confirmed our commitment,” says SRSG Chair Doug Holmes.

Most of the family speak some English and an SRSG board member, Jean Munro, remained in contact with them throughout the past two years.

“I think the bond they formed with Jean, and by extension our group, helped to give the family strength to hang onto their hopes and dreams of starting a new life in Canada,” says Holmes.

The Ayuen children range in age from 2 -20 years old. The kids will be attending local schools, and those beyond high school education will be attending Okanagan College, all starting in January.

"We were happy when the United Nations said we were going to Canada because we knew Canada is the best place for school,” says Yar, 16, who will be attending Summerland Secondary School.

Under its agreement with the federal government, SRSG is responsible for helping the family get settled in the community and for supporting them financially for one year.

To support a family this large, the group needs about $40,000, which covers income support, start-up expenses, and half the cost of the family’s flights from Kenya.

Fundraising is underway with the Penticton-based 100 Women Who Care having generously donated $6,500 to kick things off.

Tax deductible donations to support the family can be made through the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan - Similkameen here.

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