Photo courtesy of Katlyn Malo Photography
Before coming to Canada through refugee sponsorship, Paniz and her family knew only a few facts about their soon to be new home: Canada is big and it could get very cold during the winter time. Paniz and her family arrived in Canada two years ago, after fleeing from Iran. Even though they didn’t know much about Canada, they did know it was a democratic country, one where they would be free to be who they wanted to be. Paniz and her family had no real understanding of what the refugee sponsorship process was, and much less - what it entailed. While the family understood they were being sponsored, they had no real idea what to expect once they arrived in Canada. They did expect life in Canada would be difficult; they did not speak the language, they worried about the drastic climate differences, and the fact that they would be starting a new life, in a foreign country, alone.
One of the most difficult aspects of coming to a new country is loneliness, and Paniz remembers how it felt not knowing anyone: “When you are happy, you don’t know who to share it with; when you are sad, you don’t have anyone to lean on."
But, soon after arriving and meeting their sponsors, Paniz and the entire family were pleasantly surprised at how welcoming everyone was to them. The old feeling of not being wanted in Turkey was gone, and they became members of a larger community supportive in Toronto. THIS was life changing. "Having the sponsor group meant that, as well as help with all the practical things, we felt we had a lot of emotional support” she recalls.
Paniz believes that it is crucial for people coming to Canada to have a sponsor group. Adjusting to a new country is a grueling process, and it is extremely helpful to have people you can lean on and trust in times of stress and worry; “When you have someone to help you go through so many challenges, it encourages all of us to do our very best. We all know that we are no alone in our new country and that there are people ready to support us unconditionally.”
Culture shock is a roadblock that many newcomers encounter. Paniz explains that the sponsor group made certain that her family were well acquainted with Canadian traditions, and ensured that they were given a proper introduction to the city of Toronto. “We were introduced to Halloween, Christmas, Canada Day and St. Patrick’s Day; we were invited to their homes to celebrate these events. They took us to the Zoo, the ROM, the Aquarium and they taught us how to ice skate. We would not have done this without our sponsor group.”
Paniz mentions that she no longer thinks about it as a refugee sponsorship, "We look at our sponsorship group members as if they are our family. The sponsor group was an invaluable part of the family’s introduction to Canada: “When you have someone to help you go through so many challenges, it encourages all of us to do our very best. We all know that we are not alone in our new country and that there are people ready to support us unconditionally.”
Paniz emphasizes her families connection to Canada, "We can hardly wait to become Canadian citizens and are counting the days until August when will have been in Canada for three years and are eligible to apply. We already see ourselves as Canadians and can't wait for it to become official.”
Forced displacement from one's country is unimaginably difficult. Leaving behind your home, friends and the life you've made is excruciating. Refugee sponsorship makes this transition easier. Because the newcomers is no longer alone in a new country, they have people to depend on, people here to help you. "There is no way we will ever be able to thank our sponsors for what they have done for us, except to try and reach our full potential as Canadian citizens to show them how grateful we are to them," Paniz says.
Paniz is well on her way to reaching that potential in her new home and is showing what it means to be truly Canadian. She has already spearheaded bringing another Iranian family to Canada through refugee sponsorship and has won the prestigious Loran scholarship. She plans to use the scholarship to attend university in the fall and study in the field of science.
Canada is lucky to have someone like Paniz.