My father’s family comes from Romania where they had been farmers. Between 1914 and 1929, my grandfather was conscripted and fought in two wars. First in First World War, and then a subsequent war. He was a prisoner of war in one of them.
In the First World War alone, almost 10 per cent of the population of Romania died. There were two civilian deaths for every one military death. Some reports say that between the start of the First World War and the end of the Second World War, 25 per cent of the population was killed in that region of the world. It was not a very good place to be.
So when my oldest uncle turned 15 years old, and was old enough to be conscripted as well, my grandparents decided to sell off their farm, and take their kids to Canada. They didn’t want their son to fight in a war too. So in 1929, they left behind all they knew and all their extended family and friends and came to Canada. They settled in Kamloops where they became farmers again. Some 80 years on, it’s as if Bepples have always been here.
My grandparents were no different than millions upon millions of people who have come to Canada and made it home. They wanted a better life for themselves, and more importantly, they wanted a better life for their children. Like many, they fled a place of war, or the aftermath of war, to find a safer place.
The Syrian refugees who are coming to Kamloops to call it home are no different than my grandparents and they’re no different than so many others who came here before. They fled Syria because it wasn’t a place to be. They’re coming to Kamloops because they want a better future for themselves, and more importantly, for their kids.
Kamloops is full of people just like the Syrians who are coming here. Whether from Italy, India or Indonesia, there are people who moved to Kamloops to make a better future. Some people left behind the aftermath of war, others left behind ethnic strife, while others left behind difficult economic times.
One thing all these people have in common is the willingness to take a risk. There is a willingness to find the best solution and to start again from scratch. The people who immigrate to Kamloops are often the ones who start businesses and help grow our economy. Whether it is retail, restaurants, hotels or manufacturing, there are immigrants who own businesses throughout Kamloops.
It takes a lot of courage to leave a place one calls home, to leave behind friends and family. Even when things are really bad, many people don’t have the courage to leave. To start anew, with a different language and different ways of doing things is difficult for anyone. So the people who choose to come have a lot of courage.
The Syrian refugees coming to Kamloops fled a country torn apart by war from multiple factions, including their own government. But now they’re looking ahead to the opportunities of a new country, a new place.
Once they are here in Kamloops, the Syrians will be focused on rebuilding their lives. They’ll be looking after their kids, learning English, finding jobs and settling in. They’ll add another colourful thread to the tapestry we call Kamloops.
Our new Syrian neighbours will help Kamloops thrive, just as past newcomers have. Like people who arrived before, they’ll become part of the community. They’ll become volunteers, neighbours and friends. And before long they won’t be refugees anymore, they’ll just be just like everyone else. They’ll be Kamloopsians. And 80 years from now, their grandkids will tell stories of how they arrived and how glad they are their grandparents made the decision they did.