SUCCESS effort celebrates a million warm welcomes to YVR

November 1, 2017

By Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun |

Before arriving in Vancouver from Zimbabwe, Remy Kasongo Mutambayi’s impression of the Canadian border experience came from episodes of the law-enforcement reality show Border Security.

“We had seen how tough it is to be in Canada at the border,” he said. “We were a little bit worried, a little bit afraid.”

Instead, besides Customs and Border Services, Mutambayi and his wife Pamela Zenda were greeted by officers of the Community Airport Newcomers Network, (CANN) — official agents with a mission to give newcomers to YVR a warm welcome and help explain the intricacies of arrival.

CANN, funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, is run by the community services group SUCCESS, has been doing this for 25 years as part of official settlement services at YVR.

“It was like a burden was lifted off,” said Zenda to describe on what CANN’s services meant to her on July 20 when she, her husband and four other relatives, “because they were there to lead us through explaining to us everything else, everything involved in the checkout process.”

CANN has worked with new immigrants and refugees alike and in 2016, geared up to greet more than 3,000 Syrian refugees who entered Canada through YVR. Sometime this year, the agency surpassed the milestone of greeting one million newcomers to the country since its founding in 1992.

And to SUCCESS matriarch Maggie Ip, Zenda and Mutambayi’s anecdotes are a warm validation for something she saw as a not simply nice but necessary service that the community should be providing.

She herself received a warm welcome at the University of Ottawa when she arrived as a graduate student in the late 1960s, which she said gave her the impression “of what Canada is all about.”

“That’s why when I graduated, I decided to settle (and declare) this is my home, this is my place,” Ip said.

And in the spirit of wanting to pass that on, Ip became one of the SUCCESS volunteers who offered the welcoming service on an ad hoc basis for particular events, such as the arrival of Vietnamese boat people in the early 1980s or refugees from Uganda and was the reason she championed CANN’s formal creation.

“I want that feeling for other people, especially for the immigrants who have made a very major decision to uproot their families, their everything, to come to a new place,” Ip said.

That not only helps to create better Canadian citizens, Ip contends, it fosters a pay-it-forward attitude among those new arrivals.

To prove her point, Kasongo Mutambayi and Zenda took the time to come back to YVR from their home in Coquitlam to make sure that their story could be represented in honouring CANN’s anniversary.

“When I got this opportunity to come here, I just felt in my heart that I have to go, I have to be here because this is my way of saying thank you,” Zenda said.

Mutambayi is Congolese and fled the Democratic Republic of Congo because of civil war in that country and Zenda, who is Zimbabwean, said they were attracted to Canada’s reputation as an accepting place.

And everything the CANN officials did for the arriving family members left them feeling accepted in Canada, loved even, which is what they had hoped for in choosing Canada as a place to settle as refugees.

“I might not be able to give back what they did for me, but this is my way of saying thank you.”

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