News Release

Lethbridge Couple Organizes Recreation Activities for Refugee Children

World Refugee Day was first celebrated June 20, 2001, by resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. Countless groups worldwide host events to draw attention to the millions of refugees forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict or persecution.

“While there are [sometimes] organizations that help [refugees] with a place to live and basic necessities, what they need is a friend and ally who can help them [adjust] to their new home, a person who can help them learn the language, understand the systems, and feel connected,” suggests Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“I Was a Stranger,” April 2016 general conference).

Bob Thompson, a member of the Church in Lethbridge, Alberta, had been in counsel with other Church leaders about plans to assist refugee families who were relocating to their communities. He received an urgent call in January from an immigrant settlement worker asking if there was anywhere 40 rambunctious refugee children could be taken while the documentation for the newly arrived families was completed.

Bob immediately left work and opened the local Church building, while his wife, Ruth, raced to buy balls, crayons, colouring books and other items to occupy the children. Local Church members volunteered their time and donated toys, including a new soccer ball for every family. Ruth even bought a doll for every little girl. The children not only loved the activities and new toys but also loved to practice their English with the volunteers, expressing “I love you” most often.

So began a semi-weekly recreation program that ran until March 30, when all the families were in homes and the children in school. Bob and Ruth felt a real void in their lives when the program ended, but they look forward to resuming the program in the fall as more refugee families arrive.

“Refugees are people like anyone else, like you and me,” stated Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general, at the 2015 World Refugee Day. “They led ordinary lives before becoming displaced, and their biggest dream is to be able to live normally again” (“Secretary-General’s Message for 2015”).

The Thompsons were in agreement as Bob said, “While there are more than 60 million refugees in the world, no one individual can expect to help them all, but any one of us can help one of them.”

A special friendship has developed between the Thompsons and the Dabbas family, who suffered unimaginable pain, loss and even separation from one another over a period of five years. The Dabbas children — Douhouk, Lena and Ratteb — were only 13, 12 and 5, respectively, when the bombs started falling on their once-beautiful city of Homs.

Douhouk (now 18) and Lena (now 17) were asked to share their experience in front of a gathering of 500 Mormon members. “One of the nicest things about my new life in Canada,” said Douhouk, “is being called by my real name rather than just ‘refugee.’”

“Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees,” says Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy, “but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period … in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and contributors in other fields. Indeed many of them were these things before they lost everything. This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us” (“Refuge from the Storm,” April 2016 general conference).

Contributed by Donna Mazzei

Additional Resources

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