A Host Mom’s Story

The city bus stops right in front of our home in the Whitehorse. I still watch every day for “my boys” to get off and come home, even though they’ve been gone for weeks.

I was privileged to be a host mom for the Canada World Youth program from October 2014 to January 2015. We had two counterparts assigned to us: Alex from Jakarta, Indonesia, and Paul from Winnipeg. My boys.

I agreed to be a host family after hearing the Canadian supervisor, Alison Steward, on a local radio station. Long ago, in 1986, my family hosted for the Canada World Youth Indonesia Exchange in British Columbia. We had the Indonesian program supervisor, Al Busyra Basnur, stay with us. It was a great and positive experience, and with that, my husband and I decided to host for the first month in Whitehorse.

I didn’t know what to expect. I really didn’t know how the 10 Indonesians would be able to cope with a Yukon winter. Also, I thought most of the southern Canadians likely wouldn’t have been to the North. We discussed getting them winter gear and Internet usage.

At the welcome potluck, I met 18 vibrant and excited young people. It was overwhelming to meet such a big group at once. We were delighted to hear Indonesian songs. I brought rice and my husband wondered if it was good to bring. I recalled that it was from when my family had our Indonesian guest with us; he went through many pounds of rice.

It was revealed who our students were.

We met half of the duo, Alex Johandi Sirait. The other was enroute — Paul Dirks from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Alex was very proud that I brought rice, which disappeared quickly. I showed him my pictures of the past exchange, and didn’t even tell Alex our former guest’s name. Since there’s 250 million people in Indonesia, I thought there was no way could he know him. But to my surprise he did; Al Busyra is still involved in the exchange program.

Paul arrived during our Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Paul and Alex enjoyed getting to know each other. I noticed how Canadian I am, or North American, when sharing our home and traditions.

I am First Nations from the Yukon: the first peoples of the land. I tried to share much of my culture with my boys and group. I told traditional stories at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. I also took Alex to a potlatch in Carcross — a Tlingit ceremony with a feast.

We got to learn from each other, share our foods with one another, and have fun together.

All four of us had various schedules, so we didn’t have much time together as a whole family. The guys had intensive schedules with very little free time. Alex volunteered at Selkirk Elementary School. Paul volunteered at The Yukon Wildlife Preserve, the Salvation Army, and the Thomson Centre. Other youth volunteered at the Food Bank, the Salvation Army, Yukon College, Northern Cultural Expressions, the Boys & Girls Club, Blood Ties, Raven Recycling, the Duska Family Centre, Elijah Smith Elementary School, the Canada Games Centre, the Potluck Food Co-up, the Women’s Centre, the Second Opinion Society, and Women in Trade & Technology. Hundreds of volunteer hours were given to Whitehorse.

Our church, Whitehorse United Church, hosted a multi-faith event. We shared food and our faith. It was good to hear about Muslim, Bah’ai, First Nations, and Christian faiths. I learned about the hijab, and I even learned how to wrap a beautiful scarf, in the Muslim style.

All too soon, their final culture show was presented. I was so nervous and excited for the group. I felt like a pageant mom, and a lot called me Momma Sharon.

Everything was great — from fashion show, the salmon dance, and songs and dances. Everyone did well and made all the host families proud.

Since they have left, I have felt what we call “empty-nest syndrome”, when your kids leave the home. I miss them and felt privileged to have them part of our family. Yet I know I will once again hear ‘Momma Sharon’ from my host sons. Thank you for giving so much to the community of Whitehorse and to our family. 

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