This youth story was taken from our archives and was originally published in the summer of 2018. While the times are a bit different now, our values of making young people feel safe and grounded in new and unfamiliar territory are as important as ever.
I started my Outreach Program shift with some exciting news. It turns out that a young lady, fleeing sexual exploitation and human trafficking in Quebec, would be arriving to safety at the airport here in Vancouver. My colleague, George, and I were tasked with picking her up and welcoming her to Covenant House.
Before leaving, I quickly drew up a sign for her in the limited French that I knew, “Bienvenue Chez Toi!” or “Welcome to Your Home!” It wasn’t much, but I hoped she would like it.
We picked her up from the airport and the initial introductions were a bit rough. Neither George nor I were fluent in French, and she didn’t speak very much English either. We fumbled through as best we could, using our phones to translate back and forth, trying our best to make her feel welcomed while also letting her get to know us a little bit, too.
We asked her a few things here and there, and eventually the conversation led to the new city that she found herself in, “What do you know about Vancouver?”
“Pas beaucoup…” Not a lot.
George gave her a little bit of a rundown, describing the beautiful nature, especially the mountains and the ocean.
Her eyes immediately lit up at that moment. I asked her, “Have you ever been to the ocean?” She had not, but always wanted to.
I looked at George and we both knew what we had to do. “If you’ve never seen the ocean, that’s absolutely the first thing we need to do. It’s the most important thing!” At the next intersection, I turned off for a bit of a detour.
Before she knew it, we had parked the van at English Bay and walked onto the beach.
She hesitated at one point and asked us if she could dip her feet in the water. I smiled and responded, “Of course! You’ve been through a lot. We want you to feel grounded in this new place.”
She took her shoes off and dipped her feet in the ocean, looking out to the horizon. I’ll never forget the look on her face. It had in it a tinge of fear, but more than anything it was full of strength, determination, and hope.
We stayed out as long as she needed that day. I even spent some time with her collecting seashells along the beach.
When we got to Covenant House, she settled in quietly. Our relationship is in an amazing place, and I know a lot of it has to do with us taking the time to give her that moment by the ocean. It really was something special; I’m grateful to have been a part of it.