Lisa Sadler

Lessons to be learned from Langley’s experience with Karen people

Refugees’ needs are far different from those of immigrants, says Langley School District resettlement worker

Syrian families coming to Langley via private sponsorships are not the first refugees to be welcomed in this community.

In 2007, volunteers helped close to 350 Karen people fleeing the military government of Myanmar (Burma) start their lives over in Langley.

Many of the Karen people came from refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border and had “very high needs,” recalls Lisa Sadler, a settlement worker for the Langley School District.

“They were transplanted from a jungle to a city and they lacked a lot of skills,” said Sadler, who was a full-time refugee volunteer at the time.

“Very basic things were very new to them.

“They didn’t know how to get money out of a bank account with a bank card, or know what to do with a Telus bill when it came in the mail.

“They would get food donated to them and they would open a can of tuna and not know what to do with it.

“I don’t think we had ever seen people with such high needs in such high numbers.”

Before coming to Langley, the first wave Karen refugees settled in Surrey in 2006, and faced a rough start.

The volunteers in Langley did what they could to make a smoother transition.

“Churches, people and groups in Langley got furniture for them and completely set up their houses. They had food in the fridge and that kind of thing,” Sadler said.

Regardless, there were still many unexpected challenges.

With refugees coming from a small region of Burma, there were hardly any people available who spoke both their dialect and English, to act as translators.

Many of the children were behind academically, and ESL programs in Langley did not have the capacity to take them in.

Their medical needs were extreme, and Sadler spent most of her time taking the refugees to doctor appointments and to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

“I think the issues that refugees face are very misunderstood,” she said.

“We can’t look at them as immigrants, we have to address their unique challenges.

“These can include trauma and mental health, which can impact everything from school to employment to a lot of different things.

“Immigrants have time to tie-up loose ends. They have time to finish up their business and be mentally prepared to move, where oftentimes refugees are fleeing danger.

“Refugees may have left everything behind. They may have lost family members. There’s huge gaps in education sometimes — years when there’s no access to education or health care.

“So I think even when they arrive here, it’s just so complex what they’re facing, from poverty to even family breakdown.”

As the Karen people continued to arrive, many faith-based groups began filling in the gaps until settlement services were formed.

Today, there are several groups in Langley available to help refugees, including the Promoting Community Through Kids in Sports (PuCKS) program, the Settlement Workers in Schools program and the Immigrant Services Society, which will “make a huge difference” for Syrian refugees, Sadler said.

Having privately sponsored Karen refugees in the past, Sadler says her experience “has been very rewarding.

“I have built some amazing friendships and I’ve heard some pretty powerful stories,” she said.

“And a lot of our youth are really thriving.

“Even though the circumstances are challenging for them, they are involved in their schools, and involved in community service projects.

“For me, it’s really rewarding and amazing to be working with them — it’s humbling.”

Just Posted

VIDEO: Pipeline supporters rally in Langley

One of five events organized by month-old Suits and Boots group

VIDEO: All about bees at Langley festival

First-ever event part of official opening day at demonstration garden in Derek Doubleday Arboretum

B.C. Ferries cancels Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen sailings over propulsion problem

11:00 ferry now good to go, but lines anticipated

Abbotsford student cleans up at national science fair

Raul Pinol, 15, enters project on condensation of water using geothermal energy

Langley rep fastpitch squad goes 8-0 in White Rock tourney

The Fraser Valley Fusion 2006 rep A team took top honours in the Pride and Power Tournament.

Buy a lotto ticket and be a hero to B.C. burn victims

The Hometown Heroes Lottery is offering up seven grand prizes including a home in Lake Country

Giant beer tanks arrive in new B.C. home city

Molson Coors tanks finish river journey and move to overland trip in Chilliwack

VIDEO: B.C. woman praises burn fund after boat explosion in 1978

White Rock woman was 16 years old when she was left with second- and third-degree burns

B.C.’s Ryan Craig, Vegas Golden Knights chase history

Local product behind bench for expansion team’s incredible championship run

CP rail workers give strike notice

Employees could walk out as early as Tuesday at 7 p.m. PT

Suspected scammer attempts to use Black Press newspaper to dupe woman

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre offers tips after Langley resident received suspicious call

Vote points to abortion being legalized in Ireland

Voters asked whether to keep or repeal Eighth Amendment to Roman Catholic Ireland’s Constitution

COLUMN: Women’s breasts really aren’t that big a deal

A follow on some Princeton, B.C., students gained considerable exposure when they dropped their bras

Most Read