FAQ

April 28, 2018

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about VAST and the work we do to support refugee mental health and the survivors of torture.

Staff and volunteers at VASTWhat does VAST do?
What is the definition of ‘refugee’?
How is torture defined?
What are the effects of torture?
How does VAST assist refugees and other newcomers?
How many people does VAST support each year?
Who are your clients?
What languages do your clients speak?
What age groups come to VAST?
I am currently living outside of Canada. How can VAST help me?
What does ‘Healing is an Act of Resistance’ mean?
I want to support the work VAST does. How can I help?
What volunteer opportunities are available?
How can I become a volunteer?
How does VAST support LGBTQ* Refugees?

What does VAST do?

VAST assists refugees and other newcomers who have endured torture, trauma and political violence through counselling, documentation, education, and referrals.

What is the definition of ‘refugee’?

Refugee is person who is outside their country of nationality or habitual residence and has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution. People who fulfill this definition have are entitled to the rights and bound by the duties contained in the The Geneva Convention on Refugees (1951).

How is torture defined?

The United Nations Convention Against Torture defines torture as:

“[…] any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from them or a third person, information or a confession, punishing them for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing them or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.”

What are the effects of torture?

The consequences of torture are multidimensional and touch upon every aspect of a survivor’s life. Survivors of torture and war atrocities can become immobilized by their feelings and symptoms, unable to function within their communities or contribute to their family’s well-being.

How does VAST assist refugees and other newcomers?

VAST assists survivors of torture, political violence, and other forms of trauma by providing a range of services including:

  • Individual and group counselling
  • Psycho-social support
  • Drop-in centre
  • Workshops
  • Advocacy with governmental institutions i.e. Ministry of Social Development, MSP, Immigration, Canada Revenue Agency/
  • Referrals to other professionals and agencies
  • Psycho-legal documentation
  • Community kitchen, emergency food bank and clothing donations
  • Community Activities: yoga, mindfulness meditation, crocheting and knitting, arts and crafts, walking group, and activities in the community.

Find out more about What We Do.

How many people does VAST support each year?

VAST serves around 500 clients each year, and provides training for more than 2,000 participants.

Who are your clients?

VAST works with refugees from over 100 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. VAST supports people from many different backgrounds in coming together to form strong and resilient communities. Our clients range in age from children and youth to older adults. VAST serves people of all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations.

What languages do your clients speak?

Spanish, Kurdish, Farsi, Arabic, Dari, French, Mandarin, and English are the most common languages heard at VAST. Our programs and services are offered in over a dozen languages.

What age groups come to VAST?

We serve all age groups, including children and youth, adults, and older adults.

I am currently living outside of Canada. How can VAST help me?

At this time, VAST is only able to serve clients who are already located in Canada. For assistance with immigration, the refugee claims process, and other cross-border issues, please reach out to one of our partners.

What does “Healing is an Act of Resistance” mean?

It takes great courage, strength, and resiliency to begin the work needed to heal from trauma, both mental and physical. By choosing to reach out for help, we show the world that our past experiences will not prevent us from growing and moving forward. And, by sharing our stories with others, we can learn to transform painful personal experiences into the kind of insight that will help us build happier and healthier communities. In this way, healing is an act of resistance – a way of saying no to violence and oppression, and instead saying yes to joy and love, and to a stronger, more resilient society overall.

I want to support the work VAST does. How can I help?

Volunteers at VASTThere are many things you can do to support VAST in supporting the mental health of refugees and immigrants:

  • Become a member!
  • Volunteer! We often need volunteers to assist in our Community Kitchen, as well as to help with translation services, administration, events, and more! Get involved here.
  • Donate! We are grateful to receive funding from supportive partners, but we also need individual donations to enable us to continue providing quality services to our clients!

Monthly donations are a great way to support VAST! Set up a regular or one-off donation here )

To learn more about how you can make a difference in the lives of torture and war trauma survivors, visit Get Involved.

What volunteer opportunities are available?

Volunteers at VAST provide much needed support in several areas, including:

  • Community Kitchen
  • Donations
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Board Members
  • Committee Members
  • Special Events
  • Social media and graphic design
  • Counselling Professionals.

How can I become a volunteer?

If you are interested in volunteering with VAST, please fill out this form and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

How does VAST support LGBTQ* Refugees?

For the last 30+ years VAST has supported the Human Rights and psychosocial wellbeing of refugees arriving in BC, many of whom seek protection in Canada fleeing violence and persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

VAST provides trauma-informed services in an LGBTQ+ welcoming environment. We work alongside Rainbow Refugee and MOSAIC’S I Belong group for queer refugees. Through our Refugee Mental Health Line we provide consultation and referrals to sponsorship groups sponsoring LGBTQ+ folks.

VAST has also been actively involved in providing recommendations for the SOGI guidelines in the Immigration Refuge Board (IRB) determination process, and has participated in conversations discussing Alternatives to Detention with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), emphasizing the need to apply SOGI guidelines to consider LGBTQ+ detainees as vulnerable persons and to provide procedural accommodations.

Every step of the way, VAST offers support for LGBTQ+ refugees and immigrants, advocates for stronger protections, and raises awareness of the violence and persecution faced by this vulnerable group. We hope you’ll join us in supporting LGBTQ+ newcomers to Canada and welcoming all members of our vibrant and diverse community.