10 Feb My bridge: The story of a Colombian refugee resettled in Biggar, Saskatchewan

I met Sirley Sanchez during a COA session held in Quito, in June 2014. Sirley is a single mother, with three young daughters. As a Colombian refugee in Ecuador, she experienced numerous obstacles and was relieved to find out that she would soon be resettled in Canada. I had the opportunity to be at the Quito airport and to assist on the night of September 23, 2014 when Sirley was scheduled to leave Ecuador and we agreed to stay in touch. This photo-essay depicts Sirley’s journey, from the COA seminar to the airport, and to Biggar, Sakatchewan, where the family has since resettled. It also includes a reflection from Sirley on her resettlement experience.

Matthew Cecchetto

COA Facilitator

The below reflection was translated from Spanish to English.

My name is Sirley Sanchez.

A few months ago, I was in a place without options; a place with few possibilities to properly care for my daughters. Like every mother, I wanted what was best for my children.

I have now been in Canada for nearly four months. So many changes have taken place in our lives since we landed here. Thinking back on my situation in Colombia and Ecuador, it is like I am being asked to leave what I know behind and to walk across this very long bridge. Basically, I have no other options, but to go forward and cross this bridge. Having attended a three-day COA session in IOM Quito, I had a good idea of what was awaiting us on the other side of this bridge. Despite all of the reassurances I had been given, I did feel some anguish, uncertainty, anxiety and even fear, but I also had faith that once at the end of this bridge, we would be met and everything would be all right. 

Now in Biggar, Saskatchewan, we are all feeling happy. Any tears we may have are tears of joy. We are surrounded by people who love us as if we were part of their family.  I am overwhelmed by the kindness of the people around me and my family.  The language has so far not been a problem and I am proud to say that we are all learning English.

I will be honest and say that there have been days when the culture shock I had heard about, while still in Ecuador, has tried to knock me down. This is when I would I look around and see everything around me; the smiling faces of my daughters, all healthy and full of life and I knew that these feelings would pass.

The orientation that Matteo, the COA Quito facilitator, gave us before the trip was the best information that one could receive. I’ve put into practice everything that we discussed in that session and, as a result, every aspect of this resettlement has been simple; starting with the departure formalities at the Quito airport. When we finally landed in Canada, I put into practice everything that we had been told, including how to use winter clothing, how to interact with people and how to be open to new cultural situations. I have since tasted delicious maple syrup and made many new friends.

We will forever be grateful to the people who made this dream a reality and to the country that welcomed us as their residents and future citizens one day. We have been given opportunities to study, live, eat, work, and save money. Having a tranquil place to call home is priceless.

Education for all children is free and that is the most precious thing for me. This will be my greatest legacy to my three daughters.  I feel like a superwoman as I didn’t let the fear of going to such a big country, alone with my daughters, stop me. The only thing I have left to say to all the families who will begin this process is that they should fill themselves with endless humility, love, perseverance, and patience. Everything will happen when and where it is supposed to happen for each of you.

Cross the bridge without fear.

Sirley Sanchez

Sirley’s family attends a welcoming party held in Biggar, Saskatchewan.

(From left to right) Sirley’s daughters, Adriana, Valentina, and Valeria, make their first snowman in Biggar, Saskatchewan.

Colombia 5

Adriana and Valeria shopping for their first set of winter clothes in Canada.

Sirley’s daughters enjoy the winter weather in Biggar, Saskatchewan.