Fleeing danger, finding hope

A newcomer family found help and a place to belong at a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency.

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At the tail end of an unforgiving prairie winter, M.H. and his family of five arrived at the Winnipeg airport with a tremendous sense of relief.

It was 2017—a year where more people sought asylum in Canada than at any other point in the past quarter of a century. Among the highest volume of applicants were refugees escaping repressive conditions in Turkeyincluding M.H. and his family.

Even as he stepped outside into jarring sub-zero temperatures, M.H. felt grateful. His family had been through so much. Starting over in safer, more stable circumstances in Manitoba filled him with hope.

Yet adjusting to a different culture, climate, and systems turned out to be formidable challenges. Accustomed to more interdependent ways of life in Turkey, M.H. felt lonely and isolated in this unfamiliar territory.

“I thought my problems would be over.”

“We had no friends, no understanding of the language . . . everything was new here,” explained M.H.

Adding to the obstacles, M.H. and his spouse struggled to find the proper support for their two sons. Both have disabilities and require wheelchairs, frequent trips to medical appointments, and 24/7 care.

Fortunately, M.H. was able to support his family by finding a job in carpentry. After a few years of hard work, he was even able to buy his family a house of their own.

But money was tight. The costs of specialized equipment and items for his sons absorbed most of M.H.’s income. Gradually, as credit card interest accumulated and mortgage payments piled up, M.H. and his spouse became worried and anxious about their family’s future.

“When I came to Canada, I thought my problems would be over,” said M.H., “but I’m just starting new problems here.”

Building community

Then, M.H. found help that made life a little easier. Elmwood Community Resource Centre (ECRC),* a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported family resource centre, provided the family with food and clothing, financial assistance, accessible transportation, and resettlement support to help ease their stress and worries.

Justin Woodcock, a Newcomer Immigrant Settlement Worker at ECRC, is thrilled to see the ways newcomers at ECRC are building support systems with each other.

Additionally, ECRC offered something M.H. deeply longed for: community.

“People come here for support, but also for connection—to share news or celebrate an important life event,” says Justin Woodcock, a Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Worker at ECRC.

The social aspect of ECRC’s programming has been a lifeline for M.H. The friendships and support system he’s built have helped ward off loneliness and created a sense of inclusion, care, and belonging.

“M.H. is a very strong member of our newcomer community,” shares Justin. “He’s especially involved in our men’s group, one of the few support groups for newcomer men in the city.”

The weekly men’s group is an opportunity to practice various skills—but it’s so much more. It’s also a safe space where M.H. and other newcomer men can be vulnerable, learn about mental health, conflict resolution, ways to cope with everyday stressors, and openly discuss the issues that matter most to them.

“If I can help, why not?”

Today, over four years since his first bitterly cold Manitoba winter, M.H. feels more settled and at home in Winnipeg. Thanks to the support of ECRC and the generosity of United Way Winnipeg donors, M.H. knows he’s not alone, and that help is always there.

And he’s paying that kindness forward, too. Knowing the challenges of resettling in a new country firsthand, M.H. is constantly looking out for his neighbours and finding ways to help other newcomers find their footing.

As he puts it, “If I can help, why not?”

*Elmwood Community Resource Centre has offered resources and supports for the Elmwood neighbourhood for 20 years. ECRC’s Newcomer Immigrant Settlement Program assists families with education, employment, mental wellness, housing, parenting programs, and more.

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Katie BergmanM.H.