I first came to Canada as a refugee in 2006. When I left Kenya I was a teacher and single mother living with HIV. My plan was to make a better life for me and my son. I improved my French because I thought that when I moved to Canada I would be speaking both English and French on a regular basis. I also thought that when I arrived I would be able to find a teaching job and support my family. I soon found out that things were not going to go as easily as planned.
As I tried to get settled in Canada, I realized that I would need to find a network of people to help me. PWA was one of the first places that I was referred to. I came to PWA and told them my situation and they immediately helped me connect with the different organizations that could assist with housing and employment. As a refugee I did not have health benefits or enough money for my medication. PWA’s financial assistance program helped me pay for my medications so that I would not get sick and I could continue to look for work.
I was told that I did not qualify to be a teacher in Canada and would need to take more education and training. I took whatever job that would ensure I could make enough money to feed me and my son and keep a roof over our heads, but I was not happy. After two years of living in Toronto I decided to move to Alberta and try and find a better employment. I worked as a healthcare aid, community outreach worker, driver, security guard, teaching assistant – all temporary jobs with no prospects of long-term career advancement. I became depressed and frustrated with not being able to follow my dream and continue my career as a professional teacher. After 8 years in Alberta and still no closer to achieving my dream, in 2016 my son and I packed up again and moved back to Toronto.
When my son and I arrived in Toronto I was not in good health and my case worker, Bill, immediately welcomed us back to PWA. I was amazed that our absence over the past 8 years did not impact our ability to reconnect with peers and access services. In a way we were starting all over again but this time, I already had a network of people who knew and cared about me and my son.
I was connected to the Circle of Care program, a peer support program for women who are HIV positive. The peer supporters accompany you to appointments and meetings and help alleviate the feeling of isolation by visiting you in your home. We meet weekly at PWA where we talk about issues and give strength to one another. I found out about a youth group for my son through one of the women in the group. My son knows that I am positive and he is very supportive. The youth group gives him an outlet to be with children of HIV positive parents and helps him to feel like he is not alone.
Through my participation with Circle of Care, utilizing the Essentials Market food bank, and accessing therapies like massage, I became stronger, healthier, and more positive about my future. I started volunteering at PWA because I wanted to learn more about how the agency and how I could help others.
It took a long time, but I finally have all my paperwork in order and enough stability in my health and my life that I am ready to pursue my dream. I applied for my Masters in Education and am so proud to say I have been accepted. If everything goes well, I will start school in January 2018. Once completed, I will pursue a career in HIV leadership and education, or school board education policy development.
I could not have made it this far without the amazing support from the wonderful people at PWA. Thank you for the hard work and sacrifices that people on the Bike Rally and their supporters have made to help me and my son.