Bishops moved by refugee story

Published December 1, 2008

Annie Kashamura-Zawadi came to Canada as a refugee in 1999. She and her children were sponsored by the Thornhill ministerial sponsorship committee, which included Holy Trinity Anglican church in Thornhill, Ont., of which Linda Nicholls, now the suffragan bishop of Toronto, was then rector. Ms. Zawadi urged the house of bishops to support PWRDF’s 50th anniversary goal of sponsoring 50 refugees.

Niagara Falls, Ont.
Annie Kashamura-Zawadi came to Canada with five children, $20 in her pocket and a huge dream.

When she arrived in Toronto with her children, aged between 9 and 19, on Oct. 6, 1999, her heart was bursting with hope and possibilities.

Before coming to Canada, Ms. Zawadi recalled that she “had nothing left but my faith.” While war was raging in her native Democratic Republic of the Congo, she fled an abusive relationship. In response, her husband took their children away from her and made sure she was rendered jobless and homeless.

Ms. Zawadi was told by the office of the Canadian High Commissioner for Refugees that she and her children did not qualify as refugees. She refused to give up. Her persistence paid off and she was told that they could emigrate to Canada if someone sponsored them.

“I knew only a miracle could save me,” said Ms. Zawadi. Her prayers were answered, she said, “when the Anglican church signed that magic paper.” That same week, they left for Canada.

Upon arrival at the airport, she and her children were warmly greeted by a group of Canadians who had sponsored them as refugees.

Among them was Linda Nicholls, suffragan (assistant) bishop of Toronto. Then the rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Thornhill, Ont., Bishop Nicholls worked with other ecumenical partners under the umbrella of the Thornhill ministerial refugee sponsorship committee to bring Ms. Zawadi and her children to Canada.

“Linda and her team of seven were at the airport and they have never left me. They are my family,” said Ms. Zawadi, who addressed the house of bishops at their fall meeting here and talked about the Anglican church’s involvement in refugee sponsorships in Canada.

Today, nine years later, Ms. Zawadi has a master’s degree in women and gender studies from the University of Toronto and she is executive director of Arising Women, an organization she founded in 2000 to help empower immigrant and refugee women to break the cycle of violence. Her children are all in university except for one.

“I am your success story. I stand before you today so proud and yet humble. You have no idea how meaningful your support is,” said Ms. Zawadi, her voice breaking constantly as she stood in front of bishops who sat in silence, clearly moved.
She said that there are many other refugees who have a similar story to tell. “We come from various backgrounds; some of us adapt quickly, some need more time. Some are damaged to a greater extent so that it takes years, but we do get well,” she said.

“We get a better treatment as human beings because of you. All of us now have access to justice, freedom, and a wide range of opportunities not available to us in our countries of origin. All because of your support.”

Ms. Zawadi then urged the bishops to support the project of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) to sponsor 50 refugee families as part of its 50th anniversary program.

“You might be the ones who will make 50 miracles possible,” she said. “You will be God’s grace in their (refugees’) helplessness. You were the light at the end of my tunnel. I am proof of how transformative your work is in the life of one person who thought that that day might be the last day for her.”


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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