Stories of Learning and Hope

Reflecting on the 2021 Afghan crisis – Jennifer York

Jennifer prepares welcome packages for Afghan refugees.

For this month’s story, we spoke with Jennifer York, Associate Director of Refugee Programs at ISSofBC.

She highlighted the amazing team effort that was shown when, in January 2021, ISSofBC staff welcomed a chartered flight of Afghan refugees into Metro Vancouver.

“Ahead of their arrival, a lot of planning was done by our team, internal and external partners, and various government agencies, especially since Covid quarantine protocols were still in effect at that time. However, as is often the case with major events, despite this preparation, a lot of unexpected things happened. For example, we had to quicky adapt to last-minute complications when coordinating the different lists we had for the new arrivals to ensure each refugee family was registered and provided with care packages, while simultaneously responding to flight delays that stretched our teams’ resources. 

Despite the “orderly chaos” we all experienced that day, what amazed me was that we were able to welcome the newly arrived Afghans calmly and professionally to their temporary accommodation in a Vancouver hotel.

This was only possible because of the dedicated team that remained flexible and willing to help in whatever way was needed, even if it was not their role. And this was at all levels within the organization 

We had leadership and staff from other departments create welcome packages, organize and deliver food to the hotel rooms in advance of the refugees’ arrival  as well as printing and reviewing documentation in English, Dari and Pashto. I vividly remember running to the nearby grocery store multiple times to buy bread, tea, milk, and zip lock bags. Even brand-new staff, who had started the day before, were carrying heavy items to the rooms.

Success like what we achieved in support of the Afghan refugees only happens when everyone pitches in to do the work with a common goal in mind, regardless of who they are within an organization.  

In our daily work, we each play distinct roles that help make things run smoothly but when the unexpected happens, everyone can play a role in adapting and doing whatever it takes to overcome a challenge.  

It is also important to be always willing to improve. We learned so much from that day in January and have changed our procedures in response so that we will be better prepared for challenges in the future. That is the best thing about working within a passionate and committed team.

Reflecting back on my experience, I’m proud of what we achieved as an organization and as a team, and the work of those in our Settlement services team and all those who were not typically involved but pitched in to help anyway.” 

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