Years later, I think it was 1988, I found myself showing houses to a young couple who had escaped from what became the new Vietnam in 1979. As we drove around the city looking for the least expensive house available, they told me their story.
I lost touch with this couple and I'm sorry to say, I can't even remember their names. I shredded all of those old files when the privacy law was passed. They did however leave a lasting impression on me. I think of them often.
The husband was a soldier in the South Vietnamese army. When the communists took over, all of the South Vietnamese soldiers were asked to report to the authorities and identify themselves. They were assured that they would be free to go, that the new regime only wanted to know who they were. That was a lie of course and he was immediately jailed.
His wife, the driving force behind the house purchase (and who spoke the best English) was with child at that time and she had a 2 year old in tow. She worked tirelessly in the subsequent years to gain his freedom but nothing worked. The authorities denied her the right to work and since her family was starving, she had no choice but to escape.
She then walked through Cambodia with the kids and made it to a refuge camp. That in itself is a journey none of us can imagine. Within a year, she had secured passage on a crowded freighter and she eventually ended up in London England (another unimaginable journey). She began a letter writing campaign and with the help of Amnesty International, moved to Toronto and joined her sister and her family. Her letter writing continued and eventually, her husband was freed and came to Canada.
These were hellish years for them but as she told me the story, at no time did she moan or complain. She was simply grateful to be here and thrilled to be sitting in my car driving from house to house.
What struck me about this family was that they had saved enough money to buy a house in a very short period of time. The downpayment was the smallest possible and the house was the cheapest (Victoria Park and St. Clair) but they had sacrificed (not their word) many things to have their own home.
I think of them often when I wake up in my comfortable surroundings.
As with my clients, people around the world at this moment are going through wretched times, many with young children, to come to Canada. This is the kind of citizen that we should be welcoming. As it is, we are leaving them to die in the Mediterranean Sea as they sacrifice everything to escape the madness that is going on in their homeland.
What would we do if faced with the same dilemma?