Here. To welcome Ukrainians into their home.
Hosting a displaced Ukrainian was Thais and her family's way to help United for Ukraine Canada in BC.
Many British Columbians hear the news about displaced Ukrainians and wonder how to help how to help Ukraine Canada. There are many ways to make a difference: you can check our volunteer opportunities or you can donate to Ukraine from Canada, but especially right now, the need for hosts and housing is vital.
Thais and her family moved to Canada four years ago. They came from Brazil to build a better life in a safer place to raise their two daughters and son. “We had good careers in Brazil, but there are lots of issues with violence. It’s unsafe for kids; they couldn’t walk to school. We originally came here for my husband to take a course and when he finished we were so happy to be here. The feeling of safety – we wanted that for the kids.”
While the close-knit family has lived here for a few years, they still remember what it’s like to be newcomers and the insecurity of being so far from the place they had always called home. It’s these memories and experiences that made them great hosts for a displaced Ukrainian.
“One of my friends told me that she was going to host a family. She was helping search for hosts for a family of four,” says Thais. As an employee of United Way British Columbia, she was aware of the need for housing and hosts for displaced Ukrainians. As well, being vetted through the United for Ukraine Canada process was an important step in providing a safe space.
After thinking about it, Thais called a family meeting. “I asked my kids and my husband, ‘We have the opportunity to help a Ukrainian refugee family, what do you think?’ And together we concluded that we had no room to host for a family, but we could do one or two.”
It was during their family meeting that Thais’ son, Pedro, offered his room. He was willing to sleep on the floor in his sisters’ shared room. “Everyone uses my room when they visit because I have a queen bed, and I sleep on the floor or the couch. I wasn’t too worried about it. I think my sisters were more worried about it because I like to annoy my middle sister… but in a good way.”
Nina, Thais’ eldest daughter also remembers the meeting. “I was kind of OK with it, but I was hesitant about it because of having my brother in my room for two months. But when (Anastasia) came, I was like, ‘She is really nice!’”
Anastasia, or Natya to the family, spent seven weeks with the family before finding her own place. During that time, they all bonded and learned about each other’s experiences and cultures.
When she arrived at the house, Anastasia was welcomed but understandably not comfortable yet. “She was a bit emotional. The kids were chatting with her the whole time and by the second day I think she was OK,” says Thais.
Thais’ middle daughter, Lara, also remembers when Anastasia first arrived. “We all agreed on it [hosting a displaced Ukrainian] and we thought it’d be cool and, like, it would help her. And well, turns out she was very nice. She was an awesome person. I think we had two phone calls with her before she came. She was, like, all sweet.”
“Once she made me cry because she was talking about her apartment and how they entered it and just broke everything. And she was devastated. She was also talking about how they were throwing bombs and that some of her family are still there. It was harsh,” says Lara.
Asking Anastasia to help her in the kitchen and maybe teach her how to make some Ukrainian food also helped to break the ice. “I bought the ingredients, and we made Ukrainian dinners. And as we are Brazilians, I said, ‘OK, now it’s my turn and I will make some Brazilian food’! And I think this was a turning point for her to feel really at home and safe because we are sharing our experiences and culture.”
Nina especially remembers a meal that Anastasia made, “She was in the kitchen all morning. It was so good. It was delicious.”
While Anastasia has moved into her own place now, she still visits with the family for dinners and other occasions. Meanwhile, the family are considering welcoming another displaced Ukrainian into their home and all seem quite excited about the prospect. As Nina says, “Making new friends is cool. And when you help someone, I feel like the connection is way stronger.”
Lara agrees with her mother’s sentiment. “The experience of having her here was really good and I would do it again. I had a Ukrainian refugee in my class, so I asked Natya to teach me some words. She taught me to say hi and bye, the basics. She would send me text messages every day with some words in it so I could learn a little and talk to the girl in my class. It was cool because their language is so cool.”
It’s stories like these that show how rewarding hosting can be. United Way BC helps connect hosts like Thais and her family to agencies helping displaced Ukrainians. To date, we have helped connect 488 Host Volunteers to displaced Ukrainians. We also hold regular information sessions around hosting and support hosts where we can. To learn more about hosting or donate to Ukraine Canada in the province, please visit United for Ukraine – United Way British Columbia (uwbc.ca)