Four friends' passion for giving back brought them together to form the ARRIVE project to assist refugees resettling in Regina.
But when tragedy struck that group of friends in September, it was the refugee families who helped them get through the grief, underscoring the deep personal connections the resettlement group has formed with newcomers.
ARRIVE — or Assisting Refugee Resettlement in Various Endeavours — has helped more than 1,000 refugees from 26 countries around the world coming to Regina.
It all started when Gail Becker responded to an ad from a newcomer family who were looking for a table set.
"With that one act of giving, I was introduced to a whole new world of refugees and what their needs were," said Becker.
"I saw how little they had. I saw that they were good people. I saw that they were trying to start over, and that they are trying to be resilient and strong," said Becker.
"They needed more than stuff. They needed friends," said Becker.
That's when she called upon her friends Patti Blackburn, Ulla Hovdestad and Joan Stricker to help.
The ARRIVE project has helped newcomers with everything from moving furniture to language skills. They've even helped them learn to drive. But it's the personal connections that have meant the most for everyone involved.
"I have no grandkids, but all of a sudden I have all the grandchildren I could possibly want," said Blackburn.
"You get this idea that you're giving, right? But really, it is truly us that our lives are doubly rich — enriched by the friendships," said Hovdestad.
Hovdestad has formed such a deep relationship with Hiam Al Mohamed, who came to Regina from Syria in 2015, that she was in the delivery room with Al Mohamed, holding her hand, for the birth of her twins.
Al Mohamed said she learned the true meaning of connection after meeting Ulla.
"It's not about the blood. It's when they are there for you," said Al Mohamed.
Getting through dark times
Rawaa Saifeddin arrived in Canada in 2016, and the group has become like family to her too.
"I lost everything in my home country. I lost my family. I miss my parents," said Saifeddin.
But she said the ARRIVE group has made Regina feel like home.
"I feel very strong I can start again in this life and [they] help me to make some good future for my children," said Saifeddin.
That love and support has gone both ways.
The four friends who formed ARRIVE were honoured for their work resettling refugees in September 2019 with the Wind Beneath your Wings Caring Award, presented by the Regina non-profit Caring Place.
All four were present to accept the award, but days later Joan Stricker unexpectedly died.
Becker said in the early days after Stricker's death, the newcomers the ARRIVE group had helped to resettle rallied around the friends for support.
"They understand grief — they've lost so many things on so many levels. But they loved Joan, and she loved them. Truly, it was the most amazing experience of being together," she said.
"They showed their love for us because she had shown her love to them."