Melinda Miles is a cultural anthropologist with expertise in human rights, participatory methods, environmental and climate justice, and disaster response. Melinda has worked in Haiti for more than twenty years. After the 2010 earthquake, she coordinated the Haiti Response Coalition which worked closely with Haitian organizations and communities and provided support to many missions, including legal teams interviewing women survivors of rape and sexual violence. Through this work, she met Reed Smith attorney Jayne Fleming and a long collaboration began. Today, Melinda is the Design Lead for Lamp Lifeboat Ladder where she uses her experience with survivor-led disaster response and participatory planning to design processes and frameworks that can transform the current refugee ecosystem. Melinda is the coordinator of the Haiti Takes Root environmental coalition and was the Executive in Charge of Production for the award-winning film “The Uncondemned”, chronicling the first time rape was prosecuted as a war crime during the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She also edited “Let Haiti Live: Unjust US Policies Towards Its Oldest Neighbor” and contributed to “Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since the Earthquake.”
Welcoming the First Families to Canada and Building the Village
The journey of many survivors began when they realized they were no longer safe in their own homes. From that moment, the path they believed their life was on changed drastically and they were forced to face more suffering and hardship than they could have imagined. Many have moved from place to place, country to county, and none have been able to properly settle since their lives were uprooted. Each new stop along the way has been like a layover on a long trip, but for two of these families, their travels have brought them to Canada and a major milestone on their journey to safety.
Lamp Lifeboat Ladder is extremely happy to announce that the first two families in our program have arrived in Canada! A couple and their two children arrived during the last week of March this year and the second family including two adults and three children arrived soon after.
The good news doesn’t end there because three more families are ready to travel to Canada and we hope they will be on their way to the next stop in their journey very soon. In fact, we just found out that two more families – another nine people, including five more children – will be arriving in Canada before the end of June!
From the moment an individual begins working with the Lamp Lifeboat Ladder initiative, our field teams in Jordan and Greece work to provide holistic accompaniment while building legal cases. This means working with them to make sure their entire family has their basic needs met, including safe housing, health and wellness support, education and more. Some have been waiting many years for an opportunity to travel on to a place where they know they will be able to stay for the long term.
Building the Village
While we hope the journey for these families is over, it will take more than a flight to a new country for people to create a sense of home in a new place, especially after all they have been through. Lamp Lifeboat Ladder is a survivor-led initiative, meaning that our team includes survivor experts as well as advocates and others. Through workshops, one-on-one sessions and collaboration, survivors themselves participate in a Survivor’s Council that is designing the accompaniment program we are building in Canada and ensuring that it encompasses two critical levels of resettlement.
First, long before families arrive in Canada, the Lamp Lifeboat Ladder team creates a dynamic network of people, programs and services that are critical as newcomers navigate an unknown country and all of its systems. This is the foundational framework of the village we hope to create.
Canadians have an admirable history of welcoming people into their country, and Lamp Lifeboat Ladder is using an approach that is based on many years of experience and learning with both public and private sponsorship programs in Canada and elsewhere. An Ally Group composed of four to five members is created for each individual and their families who will be living in Canada. The Ally Groups go through training and work together to prepare for the arriving families. During the COVID pandemic, this includes getting housing set up and the kitchen stocked for the initial quarantine period that families will experience on arrival.
By providing this vital support, Ally Groups are one of the most important pieces of the larger holistic accompaniment that Lamp Lifeboat Ladder is creating in Canada. Working with partners who have decades of experience helping newcomers settle in the country ensures that families have safe housing and can access the diverse services available. Ally Groups are there as friends who can help navigate new cities, languages, cultures and systems.
Second, Lamp Lifeboat Ladder is creating space for people to reconnect with their dreams and purpose beyond just surviving. While many services are available to families when they arrive, sometimes these frameworks of support are not enough. When we dream about the future for our children, we start with the basic building blocks for a healthy life: access to health care, education, a place to live and food to eat. But our dreams don’t stop there. While Lamp Lifeboat Ladder first works to guarantee that human rights are respected and supported, we recognize that everyone also deserves the space to dream full dreams for themselves and their children, as defined by survivors themselves.
The vision of the village as a place where people can not only live safely and without fear of being forced to move but also as a place where they can reclaim other pieces of their lives, began to emerge in the earliest days of Lamp Lifeboat Ladder. While structures and pathways exist for people who have fled their homes to resettle in new places, this is not always enough because the challenges of starting over in a new place are different for everyone. The village offers more than just a space to survive without conflict.
While we are excited to celebrate the milestone of welcoming the first families to Canada, we also recognize the major impact the global COVID pandemic has for families waiting to travel. Progress has been slower than we hoped, but now that this initial threshold has been crossed, Lamp Lifeboat Ladder is preparing to have teams in Greece and Jordan in the next few months to increase the number of cases being submitted. We hope that 40 families will be in or on the way to Canada by the end of the year.
We are very grateful for our partners, especially the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, the World Refugee and Migration Council, the IRCC, and the Canadian Government, who together have made it possible for these families to relocate. It takes a village to build a village, and Lamp Lifeboat Ladder is grateful to be part of a global team that makes this work possible.
Help us aid refugees who have survived torture and trauma to discover a new life by supporting their relocation to Canada.