Last night, we welcomed several Syrian refugee families with a warm hug. Prior to their arrival, the energy at the airport was positive and expectant. The long hours of hard work were paying off finally. And yet there was no sign of any fatigue. Everyone walked with a spring in their step, with a lightness of gait, a new sense of freedom. And when the Prime Minister walked in looking much younger, fresher and joyful than most, he was greeted with loud cheers reserved for rock stars and sex symbols. He obliged with selfies and group hugs. He generously shared the limelight with the Sikh Minister of Defense a decorated veteran sporting a shaggy beard and turban, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada and the Premier of Ontario. His security detail was well hidden, if it was even there. Greeting the refugees was more than a photo opp. There was just a culture of kindness and compassion that permeated the place and the people set up to greet them were as divergent as the world could offer all colours, religions, shapes and sizes. They were also unselfconscious, non-hierarchical and caring.
Over these past two weeks we have dealt with a most amazing, responsive, hard-working bunch of federal government employees. They have worked collaboratively with us to address minutia, while being uncompromising with respect to quality standards. At the airport, there was a Welcome Centre, complete with a play area for the kids arriving, lined with teddy bears for each one. There was a was resting area, food and drink and there were buses to take the newly arrived exhausted but elated group of refugees to hotels nearby. Our interpreters were booked to be everywhere, at the entry point, the welcome centre, the buses and the lodging sites. We had fifty of them all pumped up and eager to be part of history. Crowning moments were when they got their selfies with their superstar Prime Minister and interpreted for him as he interacted with the first families that arrived here on the Department of National Defence’s plane from Amman Jordan. Two short months ago, things would have been much different. Then there was a culture of fear and suspicion of everything foreign. But last night the mood was best summed up by the Prime Minister when he spoke extempore from the heart and said:
“They step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada with social insurance numbers, with health cards and with an opportunity to become full Canadians. This is something that we are able to do in this country because we define a Canadian not by a skin color or a language or a religion or a background, but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that not just Canadians but people around the world share.”
Yes a leader can made a difference and raise the morale of a nation. There will always be naysayers but I am not about to let them detract from yesterday’s jubilation. It was a night to remember!
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Team MCIS Interpreter in the yellow vest at 1:00 am ! A proud moment…