African refugee ‘sisters’ celebrate new home – and new life – in Killarney


After 16 years as refugees, two women from Liberia have been welcomed with open arms into this small community.

Zoe Dickson and Felicia Joh, along with Dickson’s son, seven-year-old William Mensah, say that the relief of finally having a home and feeling safe is beyond measure.

“We feel happy, and we feel security,” said Dickson. “Because of the people around us we feel love, comfort, and caring. They give us shelter, and we are so happy to have a home, and a new life.”

This blended family of three arrived in Winnipeg on July 25, after many months of preparation and paperwork flying between agencies, countries, and the local community.

A welcoming committee from Killarney met them at the airport at 11 p.m., and only then did the trio find out they would be coming to this small town for resettlement.

“We’d like to call them newcomers, because they are no longer refugees,” said Laura Rowley, a member of the steering committee with the Killarney Refugee Sponsorship Project, who spearheaded the move. “They have found a home in Killarney.”

Some of the changes, apart from different food, involved some household mysteries.

“We didn’t know how to open the door of the front-loading washing machine, and we had to call Laura,” said Felicia. “And we had to learn how to use a toaster. But people are very good, and are teaching us many things. And at the airport, they said, ‘Welcome Home.’”

Rowley, who has lived in seven countries over her lifetime, said that the paperwork required in resettling a family into Canada was huge, as was sorting out health care and a multitude of other issues. But the family of three is settling into life here, and becoming more comfortable with each passing week.

“They’re great,” said Rowley. “We had very little information about them, and only a few days notice of their arrival. But their English is quite good, and we have been able to communicate. They are eager to integrate into the culture here, and they often say, ‘Killarney is so fine.’”

Like many refugees and victims of civil war, the two women suffered from many hardships over the years, including extreme violence against their person.

But an early friendship they created in their native Liberia is what helped them survive, they said.

“We played kickball when we were girls, for different schools,” said Zoe Dickson. “I was on a team in Poubli, and Felicia was on a team from Duogee Town, which was not far away. I was 14 and she was 15, and we became friends. It was 1988.”

When civil war broke out in Liberia on December 24, 1989, their worlds were forever changed.

Family persecutions ensued, and Zoe’s parents were both killed, while she and her siblings were split up and separated from each other. Felicia spent years in hiding in a forest from vicious attack, and eventually lost her children.

These are only some of the atrocities of war related by the women, who had lost touch years earlier.

“We both left Liberia in 1990 because of the civil war,” said Zoe. “And then we met again, many years later, in a refugee camp on Ivory Coast in 2010. We did not recognize each other, because we looked different, but we were talking about our families and we realized who we were. After losing so many family members, we declared ourselves to be ‘sisters,’ and to become a new family of our own.”

Next week William, or ‘Willy’ as he has been christened around Killarney, will start Grade 2 at Killarney School. He’s already got some of his books ready – and a soccer ball – and can’t wait to begin this next chapter of his life.

And this Saturday evening, September 3, a special roasted pork supper and fundraiser is being held to both welcome Willy and his family to town, and to help bolster funds for the committee.

“We are holding a Refugee Fundraising Barbeque at the new Ag Society Building on the Killarney Ag Grounds, with a roast pork meal,” said Pastor Danny Groening of the Killarney Mennonite Church. “Willow Creek Hutterite Colony is donating the food, and KRSP (Killarney Refugee Sponsorship Project) will be picking it up and serving it. Tickets are $10, and all of this will go directly to KRSP for our ongoing Refugee Sponsorship Project. We will also have local entertainment, and people will a chance to meet our new family.”

A second refugee family from Africa, this one from Congo, is currently in the long process of being prepared for resettlement in Killarney, he added.

“We are just waiting,” said Pastor Groening. “There are a lot of moving parts, and this is a family of a mother and father, with five of their own children, plus one niece, so a lot of things can happen. We expect to have a few weeks notice this time of their arrival.”

Pastor Groening said that although it takes a lot of energy and volunteers to finally bring in a refugee family and offer them a new life, it was well worth it.

“The whole process is one of the better things that I have done in my life,” he said. “When we saw that young Syrian boy, three-year-old Alan Kurdi, washed up on the shore of Kos in Greece last year, we knew we had to do something. William may well have been saved from something like that. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and love that this community has extended to this family.”

For more information on KRSP, and how you can get involved or help, check out their Facebook page at Killarney Refugee Sponsorship Project.


NEW LIFE, NEW HOME, NEW SCHOOL – Newcomers to Canada are (from left): Felicia Joh, William Mensah, and his mother Zoe Dickson, who have been settling into their Killarney home since arriving in late July from Ivory Coast in Africa. Willy, age seven, is already looking forward to entering Grade 2 at Killarney School next week. Laura Rowley (far right) is part of the Killarney Refugee Sponsorship Project (KRSP) committee, which has facilitated the Liberian refugee family’s passage into this country. KRSP also organizes practical and emotional support for the family, plus financial help, during this first year in their new country. Below are photos from the fundraising BBQ on September 3, as well as the welcome wagon that greeted the newcomers when they arrived at Winnipeg Airport in July.