“I had a great life in Congo. I had a job, a family, and many friends,” said Catherine. “But then the war started, and everything changed. I saw and experienced terrible things, and we had no choice but to leave.”
Poverty is often a consequence of situations beyond our control.
Violence and war forced Catherine and her family to flee their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo to a bleak refugee camp in Uganda, leaving everything behind.
Then she was given the opportunity of a lifetime. Catherine, her husband, and four children came to Canada in October of 2007 as government-sponsored refugees. They were greeted at the airport by a social worker and life skills trainer from Welcome Place, a donor-supported United Way Winnipeg agency partner.
“It was a chance for a new life, and I was excited and grateful, but still, we were filled with so much anxiety,” Catherine said. “We came here with nothing. Zero.”
The people at Welcome Place provided valuable life skills information for Catherine and her family, showing them everything from how to use a stove, to how to take the bus and navigate around the city.
“I cannot express enough what getting this kind of life skills training meant to us; how valuable it was,” said Catherine. “It was like taking something that was blinding our eyes, and removing it so we could see.”
Moving to a new country with no income can make purchasing even the bare essentials a challenge, so accessing services such as dental care was not an option for Catherine.
“Without a job or benefits, I just didn’t have the money for dental care,” she said.
Then Catherine discovered United Way Winnipeg agency partner Mount Carmel Clinic and their dental care program for newcomers. She was so grateful for the chance to have a proper teeth cleaning. During her time in a refugee camp in Uganda, she would use a piece of tree branch to clean her teeth.
Catherine wanted to help newcomers as she had been helped, and made the decision to go to school to become a community worker.
“I didn’t want to be on social assistance; I wanted to work,” Catherine said. “And once again, a United Way Winnipeg agency helped me. It was our second year in Winnipeg, and I was going back to school!”
Catherine received assistance from the Community Education Development Association (CEDA), a United Way Winnipeg agency partner.
“They took care of my tuition and living expenses so that I could take the Community Development / Community Economic Development Program at Red River College,” Catherine said.
When Catherine’s son needed a computer for school, Catherine reached out to SEED Winnipeg, the fourth United Way Winnipeg agency to help her. She was able to access funding through their asset building program in partnership with Assiniboine Credit Union.
“I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without the support I received from these four United Way Winnipeg agencies and the generosity of donors,” said Catherine. “They helped me become who I am today.”
Catherine now works as a Community Health Facilitator at Mount Carmel Clinic.