BELLEVILLE – 47-years-ago, Mieke Thorne came to Canada from Belgium, and since her move, she has dedicated much of her time helping refugees.
Born near the city of Bruges, Belgium, she said she likes to say that she was born near Flanders Fields, the famed location of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae's poem.
After moving from her home country to Canada when she was 21 years old, Thorne said she decided to dedicate her time in helping refugees.
"They leave their families, they leave their counties," she said, "Although I wasn't a refugee, I still dealt with the loneliness that they deal with when they leave their homes,"
Around the time of the Vietnam War, she and several volunteers were approached to help bring in a family of five.
Thorne said that because their group had limited funds, they decided to bring the family into her home. She said they did everything they could to help get them into the country.
"Even our kids before they arrived tried to raise money by selling juice and doing a performance," she said.
The family, which consisted of two kids, a husband and wife and her brother, would stay with Thorne and her family for two months in their home in Guelph, Ontario.
"It was quite a rewarding experience," she said, "That was the first time that I actually started with refugees,"
She said that it was because of this that she decided to put much of her energy into helping refugees as much as she and her family could.
"Helping refugees, giving back, doing something, it fit in my way of being," she said. "So over the years we managed to do a whole lot of stuff,"
Thorne said that the Vietnamese family did not know how to speak English, but she said they managed to get by and make the family feel welcome on their first day in her home.
"We picked them up from the airport, and we arrived home and had tea," she said, "we sat around the table and smiled at one another,"
The family would quickly warm up to Thorne, as she explained that one day after coming home from church, she found them making french fries in a pan, as a show of thanks to her and her family.
After the Vietnamese family moved out, Thorne said she continued her work in helping refugees, both by taking in some refugee families into their home, or by helping them through other means.
Her next major involvement was taking care of incoming refugees from Kosovo. At that time, she had moved into Belleville.
While she did not take in families, she would take part in night shifts at an old airfield in Mountain View as refugees were being transferred from CFB Trenton.
"All they would have was a bed, and it wasn't very private," she said, "But that was their first night,"
"They would then have to get paperwork done, they got a shower, they had to be tested, and all sorts of things that had to go on," she said.
After this, she would continue to provide help, taking in a refugee family from Ethiopia and another refugee family from the Congo.
Thorne said that the Congolese in particular she has vivid memories of as they were living with her.
"I loved when they were cooking, because they would be singing all the time," she said, "Although I didn't understand it, they were singing,"
"I just loved it, and I missed it when they left," she said.
More recently, she has given help to a Syrian family that was sponsored through the Prince Edward County Syria Refugee Fund. While she didn't take them in herself, she did provide as much support as she could.
She explained that helping others is one of the most important aspect of her life, and that others should take the time in doing their part to help.
"We don't live in the 17th Century," she said, "We see everything, and I know that our work is only a small thing, a small drop in the ocean, but if it helps one family to have a better life, then why not?"
She said that through her experiences in helping refugees, she has learned a lot about various cultures, and the need to accept others for who they are.
"When it comes down to it, we're all people," she said. "They're all families and they all care about their families,"
"What I've learned is that we're not that any different, we just have different cultures, different kinds of cooking, but on the whole, we're all the same and we have to respect each other and who they are," she said.