What I am about to share with you is a deeply disturbing story. It is also a story of perseverance, resilience, possibility and hope. How did I come to know this story? A desperate mother, Rebecca, found me on the internet. She noticed that I volunteer with a refugee serving group (www.auraforrefugees.org) and reached out to me for help. (I receive quite a few requests for this kind of help, and usually I don’t respond. That sounds callous, I know. But consider that there are more than 65 million forcibly displaced people around the world…no one can respond to everyone!)
For whatever reason, I did engage with Rebecca. Please know her story…
In the Democratic Republic of Congo back in December 2009, Rebecca and her 3 children survived an unspeakable trauma: They were victims of brutal assaults and sexual violence perpetrated by rebel groups. Unfortunately, Rebecca’s first husband did not survive the violence. He was beaten in their home, and abducted, never to be seen again. Rebels returned 2 nights later and gang-raped Rebecca in front of her three of her young children, aged 3, 5, and 10 at the time. As they left, they promised to return – and threatened to kill everyone.
Rebecca did what you might expect a terrified mother to do: she bundled up her little children and fled the DRC. Rebecca knew someone who drove a cargo truck between the DRC and South Africa. He agreed to smuggle the four of them into the truck. They made the long and dangerous journey to South Africa, and have been living as Asylum Seekers ever since.
Ricky is Rebecca’s second husband. They met in South Africa. He also fled the DRC (in 2007) after a violent beating by rebels that left him with two broken arms. He felt lucky to escape with his life!
Rebecca, Ricky, and the children carry the trauma they experienced with them, and every day, pray for a better life.
The South African government has been extremely slow to attend to their asylum claims. In fact, they still haven’t. Nearly 10 years post-arrival, neither Rebecca nor her partner have citizenship status, which means they have very few rights and opportunities for a decent life. Despite their attempts, they do not have UNHCR refugee status either, which makes it extremely difficult to find a way to leave the country to seek a better life.
It is a very hard life, lived under the dark cloud of xenophobia. Without proper citizenship, Rebecca and Rickymust take jobs “under the table” to survive. It’s always precarious work, barely enough for the family to survive on, and the local people harass them to leave it. Rebecca and Ricky have been the victims of a xenophobic attack. They live every day in fear for their lives.
Another challenge for the family is that one of the boys, Jonathan is extremely ill. After receiving a blood transfusion in 2010 he developed a sleeping problem. He was diagnosed anaemic but the medicine did not help. His case has been neglected by the doctors in the State hospitals and the family cannot afford to take him to a private doctor. He has not been able to learn properly at school and has lost a lot of learning time. The family cannot afford the remedial school that doctors have recommended he attend. As you can imagine, this means a lot of anxiety for him, and affects the whole family.
Rebecca and her family are very desperate now.
Rebecca knows that her children are getting older, and
the longer the wait to get to a better place,
the harder it will be for all of them to live decent lives.
Rebecca really wants to make a good and safe life for her family. They want to work and be responsible citizens, and be useful in another country. Recently, Rebecca told me that if she can make it to a better place, she wants to find a job helping others and she wants to volunteer to help other people seeking refuge. She is so grateful that I am trying to help. And I am utterly in awe of her resilience and perseverance.
At the beginning of this story, I promised you hope and possibility.
The hope and possibility is YOU and me together.
I have been involved in Refugee Sponsorship for the past 4 years. I know that if a Canadian Sponsorship group commits to sponsoring Rebecca’s family through Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees program, it is possible to help them come to Canada to find the better life they are so desperately seeking.
Rebecca has a sister living in Ottawa, Bernadette (who has her own story of a gruelling escape with her young children from the DRC to South Africa, and a migration to Canada. She is now a Canadian Citizen.) So, I thought, “let me see if I can find a sponsorship group in Ottawa who can help with the sponsorship.” I know from experience the energy and commitment required to undertake private sponsorship. I also knew that if I could tell a sponsorship group that family would be around to assist Rebecca and her family with settlement, that the group would be more willing to say yes to my request for help!
I reached out to a number of sponsorship groups in Ottawa. The Ottawa South Committee for Refugee Support (OSCRS) agreed to meet with me. I told them Rebecca’s story, and Bernadette’s story too. They have agreed to help! (I was so thrilled the day they said “yes”!) Though I am based in Toronto, I have now joined this Ottawa-based collaborative to support this family seeking refuge. OSCRS will help with the paperwork that the Canadian Government requires. They will support Rebecca and her family – alongside her sister Bernadette – during their first year in Canada. The group will help Rebecca’s family find a place to live, get proper clothing for Canada, connect them with doctors and dentists, help register the kids in school, orient them to transit, sign up for language classes, help them connect with employment opportunities and generally help them get used to life in Canada.
The Canadian government also requires that sponsorship groups raise enough money to support the family for one full year. Since first writing this post, I have an update on the amount we need to raise – it’s approximately $50,000. What is the money for? It is for living expenses in their first year here: housing, utilities, furniture and household supplies, transportation, dentistry, clothing – general life expenses to get established in Canada.
Could you see yourself helping this family have a better life?
If yes, please make a donation today!
My husband Darrick and I have set up a charitable fund with the Toronto Foundation. All donations of $25 or more are eligible for a Canadian charitable receipt for tax purposes. We will compare notes with our “kindness collaborators” in Ottawa (The Ottawa South Committee for Refugee Support) until together, we have raised enough to support Rebecca and her family in their first year in Canada. Darrick and I have put in the first $5,000, and over time will continue to add our own donations to the fund. Rebecca’s sister will add what she can (remember – she came here as a refugee herself! She is doing her best making a living for her family, and she needs our help to reunite with her sister). We are asking everyone we know to help out – and are reaching out to people we don’t yet know, too!
We hope you’ll join us. You can contribute online at https://torontofoundation.ca/nadia-and-darrick-heyd-refuge-fund
If you prefer to give by cheque, please make your cheque out to “Toronto Foundation” and on the memo line please write “Nadia and Darrick Heyd Refuge Fund.” Please mail to:
33 Bloor Street East, Suite 1603
Toronto, ON M4W 3H1
Thank you for considering changing this family’s life with us!
If you have any questions, or would like to meet, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nadia and Darrick Heyd