Sadia* and her 11-year-old son Rafi*, the bravest young man I have met, are originally from Bangladesh and are lucky to have escaped with their lives.
Sadia was forced to marry her husband, a police officer in the town, right out of high school and wasn’t allowed to gain higher education, or to work outside the home. When Rafi was only 8 years old, his father found another woman and wanted a divorce. Sadia, who didn’t have any means to support herself or their son refused at first, which was when the beatings started. Since her husband had borrowed money from her family, Sadia tried to make a deal – pay the money back and she would grant him a divorce. More beatings followed. And since her husband was a police officer she couldn’t report the beatings as the police have a lot of power in that country.
When Rafi was 9 years old he couldn’t stand seeing his mother beaten any more, so he picked up a bat and started hitting his father back. His father, being bigger and stronger, was able to grab the bat and then beat both Rafi and Sadia. That night Sadia and Rafi were able to sneak out of the house and seek medical attention from a doctor they knew. Had they sought help at a hospital her husband would soon find out. Thanks to relatives in the diplomatic corps, they were able to stay for a short time in a diplomatic hotel before fleeing the country. With little money borrowed from family members, Sadia and Rafi traveled through several different countries before landing in Canada.
Rafi, who learnt a little English in school in Bangladesh, now speaks it very well and is often called on to translate for his mother. Sadia is taking English classes in the mornings, and volunteers at the Caldwell Family Centre in the afternoon as a way of giving back while improving her language skills. She is also gaining confidence and Canadian references she can use to secure employment.
While you can’t change the past or reverse what has happened to this young man, you can help change his future as he takes part in the afterschool program, and receives healthy food from the food bank, meal programs, and afterschool snacks.
Rafi and Sadia are just two of the people that your continued support will help. I asked Rafi what he wanted to do when he grew up, and he said that he wants to either be a diplomat or work with immigration to help people like his mother and him when they need it most. I believe that in 15 or 20 years from now we will see great things from this young man. But for now we need to continue to help him and his mother move forward.
Belyse was born and raised in Burundi, a small country in Africa where the official languages are Kirundi and French. She came from a very loving family of six children, but sadly her father died when she was just eight years old. Without her father, she often thought about other children who had lost their parents and how they must be feeling. Deep inside she always felt that she wanted to help kids who had no parents. Her desire to help others started then and grew throughout her lifetime.
Belyse was luckier than many, as thanks to her father’s careful financial planning before his death, her family had a house to live in and were well cared for and happy. Their amazing mother made sure that all of her children received an education.
Belyse met her husband at her church youth group. They both studied Law and became Lawyers. She wrote my thesis on international adoption, and the rights and welfare of the children. Her husband became a successful human rights advocate.
In 2015 civil war broke out in Burundi, and Belyse and her husband lives would be threatened due to his work on human rights, their ethnicity, and political opinions. They were forced to leave, and we could never go back. After a long journey through Rwanda and the United States, during which they depleted their savings, they eventually made it to Canada having been granted Refugee status. But they arrived with nothing and had to start over. Their qualifications were not recognized in Canada and they were unable to find work for some time.
They now have two young children, which is how Belyse became aware of the Caldwell Family Centre. Because of their limited money she came to the Family Centre for diapers and other baby supplies, and used the food bank. At the time things looked pretty bleak, but Belyse says “my spirits were lifted by the kindness and support I received at the Family Centre”.
This has encouraged Belyse to study to become a social worker so she could “give back to the community that has been so kind to me and my family and fulfill my desire to help others”. She had hoped to start social work studies, but needed job related experience and better English to be accepted into the program. Belyse became a volunteer at the Caldwell Family Centre in the Baby Depot and Toy Library to get that experience. She was also hired to work part-time in the Centre’s afterschool program where she was able to practise speaking in English.
After her husband was able to obtain part-time employment, they were not so reliant on the food bank, but we are very grateful that it was there when they needed the help. The Caldwell Family Centre, through the support of many kind individuals and organizations, was able to help Belyse and her family when they needed help the most. Thanks to the Caldwell Family Centre, Belyse says “we were able to make it through some pretty tough times. Once we are fully on our feet in our new country it is our intent to give back however we can”.
Lisa* became a grandmother at the age of 36 while still raising two teens as a single mother on a low-income. Her 16‑year‑old daughter had to dropped out of high school until Lisa’s grandchild was born.
Lisa grew up in the Caldwell area and dreamt of a different life for her children. She attended the after-school programs at the Family Centre so that her mom, who was also a single parent, could work late. Lisa enjoyed the field trips at the free summer camps, where she learnt about distant places.
Lisa’s life changed as a child when she was suddenly taken to a foster home in another city while her siblings stayed in foster care in Ottawa. When she was 14 years old, she found herself living in bad circumstances and was returned to Ottawa to live in the Caldwell area again, with yet another new foster family.
At age 19 Lisa gave birth to her son, and at age 20 she gave birth to her daughter. Their father disappeared from the picture.
Lisa has worked hard to provide a good homelife for her children and struggles to put meals on the table, keep them clothed, and to keep them interested in school. She wants to do all the things responsible parents do as their family grows. And now she cares for her grandchild so that her daughter can finish high school.
As a single mom living on a low-income, Lisa says “I must make some really difficult decisions for my two teens and choose between food for the family or diapers for the baby. I eat my breakfasts and lunches at the Family Centre to ensure there will be food at home for the kids. And I visit the Baby Depot at the Family Centre for baby food and diapers to help me make it to the end of each month”.
My name is Oke* and I would like to tell you a little about myself and my circumstances, and how the Caldwell Family Centre has helped my family.
I was born and raised in Nigeria and graduated university with a degree in Computer Science. I had a good management job in local government. Our difficulties started just after I give birth to my third daughter.
While the birth of a child is a happy event in my family, the birth of yet another girl was not seen as a reason for celebration in my husband’s family as they value male children over female children – a belief that my husband does not share. My in-laws began a campaign to force my husband to divorce me so that he could marry another woman and have a son. They were also adamant my daughters would be circumcised (FGM) – a belief that my family does not share having known girls who died from infection after having this unnecessary procedure.
Their relentless eight-year campaign consisted of nasty bullying and harassment, escalating to beating me in front of my children when my husband was not there to protect us. My husband tried everything he could to get his family to stop, but to no avail.
The situation became unbearable, so my daughters and I moved to a different city. However, my husband’s brother found us and the bullying and harassment continued. When a friend I had not seen for a while came to visit, I embraced her as a way of welcome. This small gesture that under normal circumstances is commonplace, made the situation worse. My husband’s relatives accused me of being a lesbian, which in Nigeria could mean a jail sentence, or being beaten to death in the streets.
I was terrified for my daughters and myself, so my husband and I decided that I should take the girls and leave Nigeria and we choose Canada. Unfortunately, my husband was not granted permission to come to Canada and had to stay behind.
With little money and no affordable housing available, we were housed temporarily at a hotel. We were not able to bring many of our belongings from Nigeria, and the hotel room only had a microwave for cooking. Not a very comfortable situation to live in with three growing girls, but we were extremely grateful just to be safe.
Another family staying at the same hotel told me about programs and services at the Caldwell Family Centre. I am so grateful for the staff at the Family Centre who provided us with food, my daughters with school supplies, and found warm clothing for us at the Clothing Depot.
After a short time at the hotel, I found a part-time job and I was able to find housing I could afford. I also volunteer at the Family Centre as a way of giving back and helping others who find themselves in similar circumstances. I am grateful that my two younger daughters, now 9 and 11, were able to make friends and stay busy during the summer thanks the summer camp at the Family Centre. And I am grateful that my eldest daughter now 13, was able to volunteer at the summer camp. This not only increased her self-confidence but provided her with experience she can use on her resume when she is ready to find a paying job.
Thanks to my part-time job we are not as dependent on the Family Centre for food and other supplies that we once were. I am also currently taking French lessons so that I can find a fulltime job to better support my daughters. My girls and I are hopeful that my husband will soon be able to join us in Canada and find gainful employment.
Without the support of the Caldwell Family Centre we could not have made it this far.
*Name has been changed to protect the children’s privacy
Residents in Our Community
For many years Helen Synek has personified the Caldwell Family Centre and our motto, “For People – With People”. In 2015, the City of Ottawa recognized what we’ve known all along.
Mayor Jim Watson and River Ward Councillor Riley Brockington presented the Mayor’s City Builder Award to Helen recognizing her 30 years of work at the Caldwell Family Centre in Carlington.
In 1954, Helen left school in Youghal, Ireland, at 14 to start helping to support her family by working in a textile factory. She immigrated to Ottawa when she was 20. She has never forgotten her blue-collar roots and the loneliness of moving to a much bigger city so far from home. Her upbringing, and the challenges of living in a new country, helped her to make friends easily and to be empathetic to the people who seek essential social services as well as companionship at the Caldwell Family Centre.
She continues to work in the day program at the centre most of the day, but also helps with the neighbourhood food bank and the seniors’ drop-in program. At almost 75 she has no plans to retire, preferring to stay busy and active helping the hundreds of people who come to the centre, whom she embraces as friends.
The Caldwell Family Centre recently presented a 30-year service award to Helen. She told a reporter from the Ottawa Citizen: “The best part of the job is seeing the people every day and to try to make them feel important…and not use them to make yourself feel better”.