Inspiring Stories from Survivors

The following short article was recently published in the Summer 2011 edition of First Light (a biannual publicationo of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture). I’d like to post the article on my blog for readers who may not otherwise have heard of First Light.

Transformative Student Testimonies from Two CCVT Journal Entries

By Catherine Raine  (LINC Instructor 2004-2010)

            When Ezat Mossallanajed invited me to contribute some writing on the topic of “love, compassion, and forgiveness in the rehabilitation of survivors,” I went to my journals to look for stories. I found a couple of entries which speak to survivors’ extraordinary inner strength, gratitude for life, and desire to help themselves and their communities.

January 20, 2010

I’ve been enjoying the student presentations in my CCVT English class because they’ve created a listening space that feels fresh and new.  So far, students have talked about computers, Albania, Eritrea, and fun places to visit in Toronto.

We also listened to a more personal narrative about a student’s struggle as a refugee claimant. She told us that she fled from her home country not once, but twice. The first time was because of war, and then her family returned when political independence was achieved. Sadly, conflict flared up again, so she left for good. Now she lives alone in Canada while her children and grandchildren reside in Europe and the Middle East.

I asked the speaker how she stayed so positive. “You smile all the time. How do you do it?”

“I have a lot of friends, and I like to help them. I am part of a community. When I break the fast at Ramadan with everybody, I don’t feel alone.”

She then asked me why some people in North America stay so negative: “Why they don’t give thanks for all the good things they have?”

 February 22, 2010

This morning one of my students gave a very moving presentation about the struggle to come to terms with her new life in Canada. When she came here less than two years ago, she had no English, no money, and no friends or family. In the shelter, she slept all the time because she was so homesick.

“Then I decided to have a talk with myself. I told myself it wasn’t good for me to sleep so much. I needed to study English.”

She was scared because she hadn’t gone beyond middle school in her home country. Regardless, she steeled herself for the task because she knew she had to have English communication skills to survive in Canada.

“On the first day of my class at CCVT, I cried because I couldn’t understand my teacher, Susanna. She was kind and told me not to cry. She said that she would help me.”

With Susanna’s compassionate encouragement, my student didn’t give up, and in two years, she has progressed from not knowing a single word of English to speaking in front of the class for fifteen minutes. She found the strength to fight for her new life when she could have just kept sleeping all day to escape reality. She’s a heroine to me.

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