Catholic Social Services’ staff face unprecedented demands for assistance as they face crises both locally and international. In just one area of the agency’s work, refugee resettlement, over the past year, CSS has resettled more than 800 Afghan refugees, and supported hundreds of Ukrainian Nationals across central Alberta. This is in addition to the agency’s typical refugee caseload, which involves resettling as many as 900 government assisted and privately sponsored refugees each year, from across the globe.
“What we are experiencing right now is unlike anything we have seen before. The blend of environmental disaster, war and the re-openings of Canada’s borders has created a surge of needs.” says Dr. Troy Davies, CEO. “At CSS we have a long tradition of ‘welcoming the stranger,’ which we are proud to continue today. We can’t, however, do this work alone.”
Seventeen-year-old Nargis arrived in Edmonton in January 2022 with her three brothers and a single suitcase. She had only hours to pack when Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021. She took only what she could carry by bus, and then on foot, across the border to Pakistan. As a member of the Hazara ethnic minority and the younger sibling of a prominent human rights defender, Nargis’ life would be at risk if she remained in Afghanistan.
“Everyone lost everything that day,” says Nargis. “For the first twenty days (in Pakistan) I didn’t talk, I only cried. We had nowhere to go and no hope. I was so afraid. When we found out we were accepted to come to Canada, it was the first time I had hope again.”
After five months in hiding, Nargis and her brothers were accepted into Canada under the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada human rights defenders' immigration stream. When they arrived in Edmonton, they were housed for six weeks in CSS-run temporary accommodations. While there, the family received settlement support, counselling, and orientation to life in Canada from CSS.
Thanks to the support of donors, CSS was able to provide Nargis with a tablet and other supplies she could use once she started school in Edmonton. She has used the same tablet to complete all of her school assignments, read books, and even, to teach herself French. This fall, Nargis started grade 12, and is grateful for the opportunity to finish her schooling.
“I like school more than anything. The classrooms and the teachers, and how hard they work to make everyone comfortable,” says Nargis. “If I was still in Afghanistan, I would no longer be allowed to go to school, but here, I am free to graduate, and even, go to university.
Catholic Social Services has been bringing hope to vulnerable Albertans for 60 years. Today, CSS is one of the largest providers of social services in Canada, serving more than 20,000 people annually, across three priority areas: newcomers to Canada, individuals with disabilities, and children, individuals, and families.
Sign of Hope, the charitable fundraising arm of CSS, provides funding for a dozen programs each year. From September 21 to December 31, 2021, CSS will run its annual Sign of Hope fundraising campaign. The goal is to raise $2.6 million to help meet the needs of vulnerable Albertans across central Alberta, including newcomers to Canada, like Nargis.
Donations to Sign of Hope empowers CSS to meet the unique and pressing needs of those it serves across dozens of programs and services. Funds raised help women and children fleeing domestic violence, seniors experiencing isolation and abuse, vulnerably and recently housed individuals, teens and youth who are at-risk-of, or experiencing, sexual exploitation, and those in need of mental health services.
Donations can be made online at www.cssalberta.ca/signofhope, or by calling (780) 439-HOPE(4673).