Niagara Falls, Ont.
Annie Kashamura-Zawadi arrived in Toronto with her five children, aged between 9 and 19, on Oct. 6, 1999.
She only had $20 in her pocket, but her heart was bursting with hope and possibilities.
Before arriving in Canada, Ms. Zawadi recalled that she “had nothing left but my faith.” She had fled an abusive relationship and, in response, her husband had taken their children away from her and had made sure she was rendered jobless and homeless. This happened while war was raging in her home, then known as the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
Ms. Zawadi had been told by the office of the Canadian High Commissioner for Refugees that she and her children did not qualify as refugees, but 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 the children were warmly met 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 had 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 since. 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 earned 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’s (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.”
Bishop Nicholls said that while the 50 sponsorships might just be “a drop in the bucket,” it would, nonetheless, be “a witness and a sign in our world.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that as he sat listening to Ms. Zawadi’s story, it made him think that her story “puts everything else in a different light.” (At their annual fall meeting here, the bishops have spent hours in closed-door conversations about the issue of same-sex blessings. They are expected to issue a “message to the church” regarding renewed calls for a moratorium on same-sex blessings today, Oct. 31.) PWRDF’s refugee sponsorship project ” provides us with another opportunity to realize our baptismal covenant to strive for peace and justice and to respect the dignity of every person,” said Archbishop Hiltz. He said that over the next 20 months, the church is looking to its parishes across Canada to sponsor a minimum of 50 refugee families. “In many cases, these families have been struggling to survive in refugee camps for years, even decades,” he noted.
At present, there are 18 dioceses that have sponsorship agreements with the federal government.
PWRDF staff who were at the meeting asked the bishops for their thoughts on what support they needed to increase their capacity for refugee sponsorships and other refugee ministry in their diocese, and what they could commit to. Some bishops said they needed training for parish support groups, others said they wanted to know what others are doing “so we can do things better.” Some urged greater advocacy with government, noting that support for refugees ceases after one year.
Meanwhile, Philip Poole, suffragan bishop of Toronto (York-Credit Valley) and episcopal representative to the PWRDF board, urged his fellow bishops to become “ambassadors” for PWRDF, noting that its name recognition in parishes is “not that much.” He noted that since its inception 50 years ago, PWRDF has raised $88 million and has made “an enormous difference in the lives of people.”
Zaida Bastos, Africa development program co-ordinator for PWRDF, presented bishops with stories of “success, compassion, hope and impact on communities” resulting from PWRDF projects in Africa.
She told the story of how PWRDF’s support for a micro-finance program in Nambura, Mozambique, has enabled a woman named Maheja to lift her family out of poverty. “She can’t read and write but she now runs three successful businesses. She’s an economic force in her community,” said Ms. Bastors, adding that the micro-credit finance program, which has 3,300 members, had a repayment rate of 98.5 per cent.