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Success Story

Empowering Li to Turn a Nightmare Into a Dream

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When Li first immigrated to Canada, She was filled with optimism and hope for the life she was pursuing in a promising new country. She came here for love—to be with her husband in joy and prosperity. But she quickly learned that she was not getting the life she signed up for.

Instead of feeling happy and cared for, Li was isolated, abused, and living in secrecy. She and her husband lived in a small town where she was unable to communicate with the English-speaking community. She seldom got a chance to interact with others at all as her husband kept her secluded in their home. He wanted to keep his reputation untarnished by the truth of how he’d been treating his new wife. At home, Li was lonely and caught up in mind-spinning arguments with her husband over the smallest of things. She discovered that the man who was supposed to support her and help her achieve success in Canada had no intention of doing so.

Li had no family or friends nearby, nor did she have a job or hobby to connect her with others. She began looking desperately for a way out and that’s when she discovered Interval House. At her first opportunity, Li made her escape, leaving behind her life of sadness and shame.

At the shelter, Li found a community of people who would stand in as her family, her friends, her support network. With the full backing of the Interval House team, Li began to heal from the emotional trauma she endured while living with her husband’s threats and broken promises. She learned that none of it was her fault and that no one ever deserves to be abused. The encouragement she was given helped her truly start over.

The counsellors at Interval House helped Li access English classes to improve her communication skills and job prospects in Canada. And with those skills, she is now giving back by providing volunteer translation services to newcomers that need help establishing themselves in their communities.

The counsellors helped Li find housing and now she has a safe place to live, happily. “I got so much help, I couldn’t have imagined it,” Li said. “And even now, I still think I live in a great dream.”

Now a certified nutritionist, Li is making it her life mission to help others through her work.  She was inspired by the support she received at Interval House and wants to pay it forward to give others a chance at a better life too.

Stories like Li’s illustrate the significant toll that abuse takes on the lives of innocent people.  Li has touched so many lives in a positive way since finding her way to safety and self-sufficiency.

Imagine the loss it would have been had she never freed herself from a life of violence and isolation. Her life would have been a shell of what it is now. Li would have lived only to serve her abusive husband’s ends and would have lost all self-confidence and determination. Living that life, she never would have had the chance to help others through her translation work and her nutrition counselling. Thankfully, Li escaped the nightmare she was in and came to Interval House, where she was encouraged to achieve everything she wanted to.

Sadly there are many women who have not yet escaped their lives of violence and it’s up to all of us to reach them, to show them they can have better lives, and to boost them up so that they can prosper. There is no peace as long as there is violence against women and girls. There is no justice as long as abusers go unchallenged. And when a woman’s agency is taken from her, it impacts the entire community around her. We are all connected, and we all have a role in ending gender-based violence for a better tomorrow.

If we all do away with apathy and realize that there are ways—big and small—in which we can all help, we’ll be so much closer to living in a harmonious world that honours the equality of all. In our communities, we must watch out for sexist and misogynistic behaviour and educate others about the micro-aggressions they may be committing that contribute to a culture permissive of violence against women. We can begin educating people about consent and respecting boundaries at a young age so that the old adage that “no means yes” can really be a trope of the past. We can stop victim-blaming and slut-shaming when women are assaulted or abused and we can spread the understanding that nothing a woman does or wears renders her deserving of any kind of abuse. We can endorse artists and businesses that empower women and divest from those that don’t. We can support organizations that provide services that help women by donating, volunteering and spreading the word. We can make more spaces welcoming to women, girls, LGBTQ+ folks, people of colour, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty so that their voices are always included, never shut out.

If a woman like Li has the power to rebuild her life from scratch, imagine the power you have to help make stories like Li’s a thing of the past.

Marjan’s Story—Escaping Abuse & Ending the Cycle of Violence

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is underway to put a spotlight on the global issue of violence against women (VAW). VAW  takes many forms—intimate partner violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, human trafficking and so much more. These 16 days, spanning from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 to Human Rights Day on December 10, brings the issue of VAW born of a patriarchal society to the forefront, with stats and statements dominating every social media feed. It’s good to see  the issue is getting attention and to witness men making pledges to do their part to end the pattern. But the true impact of VAW can’t be conveyed through stats and governmental announcements.

The devastation and the subsequent work it takes for women to rebuild their lives after violence can only come close to being expressed through true stories of what women have been through. That’s why we want to take this opportunity to share a story of one brave woman who turned to Interval House when she found herself in a very dark situation.

Marjan’s partner wanted to take her on vacation to Mexico. It would be an amorous getaway—especially if they left the kids behind. Marjan thought a vacation would be refreshing and that the kids could use one too! While someone in a healthy marriage might think of leaving the kids behind as romantic, Marjan saw it as a red flag. Her partner had been abusive and threatening in the past and she didn’t want to be anywhere without her dear children close by.

So they all flew to Mexico together and the vacation was going well. They were in a picturesque place having fun in the sun as a family. Then one night, when Marjan emerged from the shower after a wonderful beach day, her husband’s demeanour changed from cheerful and relaxed to irrationally irate. He attacked. With great force, he began grabbing, scratching and hitting Marjan. He struck her with items he found in the room as she tried desperately to defend herself. All the while, the couple’s young children were witnessing the horrible assault. It was clear to Marjan that she was not intended to survive this round of abuse.

Marjan had been brutalized by this man before. She had even stayed at a domestic violence shelter once. While she ultimately chose to return to her abuser, she gained valuable skills in the time she spent there. She learned about safety planning, the importance of keeping her ID and travel documents safe and reachable, and she learned about identifying signs of escalating danger. She had also gotten into the habit of sharing her whereabouts with loved ones at all times, especially when going anywhere with her husband.

Marjan entered fight or flight mode, bolstered by what she had learned from her past experience. She managed to gather enough strength to flee to a nearby suite for help. The local police were called and Marjan’s husband was arrested and restrained. She was able to get tickets to return early from her trip with her children and when she arrived in Canada, police met her and escorted her to safety at Interval House. Because the crime committed happened in Mexico, the Canadian authorities had no grounds to lay charges against Marjan’s husband. It’s outrageous and devastating that her husband got away with such a brutal assault and a pattern of abuse.

Once Marjan’s immediate medical needs were taken care of, there was much to deal with back at the shelter. Having arrived from her holiday in Mexico, all Marjan and her kids had with them were summer clothes. Our staff helped them get the clothes and essentials they needed. Then, the family was able to get counselling to address the trauma they had experienced and begin to heal their emotional and physical wounds. Our counsellors also helped Marjan access legal aid and begin the long custody process. Interval House Children’s Counsellors also helped to get school support for one of her children.

With the care they received at Interval House, Marjan and her children started to recover from their painful experiences and after just a couple of months, they were ready to move on and begin their lives again without violence and intimidation. Marjan felt that this experience was the wakeup call she needed and is confident that she will never fall into the pattern of abuse again. The family is now living with a friend and working on re-establishing themselves and becoming self-sufficient.

Violence against women is so pervasive in our global culture. It is a culture that still treats women like second class citizens—second to men. We continue to live in a time when husbands think they have the right to inflict force on their wives and when strangers think that any women’s body is theirs to comment on or make a pass at. That’s why the 16 Days of Activism is so important to get us talking about how we can change the status quo and move more rapidly toward gender equality and respect for all. By welcoming women and children escaping violence and providing holistic support, Interval House works hard to stop the cycle of violence every day. Will you?

Two young girls posing in front of a window

I have only wonderful memories of my time at Interval House

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On my quest to find happiness, I took a meditation class and I learned about the word seva: it means service. The whole idea is to be more compassionate—to give without expecting anything back—and it got me thinking about reconnecting with a place that made such a positive impact on my life.

I was only 2 years old, and my sister was 4 when our mom brought us to live at Interval House. This is when they were still in the little building on Huron Street. I remember the big living room where we ran and played and I remember finding a vent on the wall where we would whisper to each other across the room. And the washroom—lots of kids brushing our teeth together!

Here I am, more than 25 years later. I’m about to graduate from business school and my memories of living in the shelter are so positive. I can still picture the nice lady with red hair who always carried me around, and the room full of donated presents where my mother went to choose our Christmas gifts I can see now how the whole experience set us in the right direction.

My sister and I talked about how we used to see all the moms gathered together, rummaging through piles of newly-donated clothing. When I think about the women squabbling over those clothes now, it makes me emotional. We understand how much it means to these families. And that’s why we decided to donate clothing for the women at Interval House, and to deliver them ourselves.

The first time we went back, we brought along some of the old photos we have from our time there. Right away Nadine and Arlene remembered us. Imagine, with so many families coming and going that they remembered ours! They even confirmed my memory about another staff member who really loved kids— the woman with the red hair!

Thinking back on it now, I don’t remember seeing my mom sad. It’s amazing how parents can shelter kids from this kind of stuff. I didn’t even know that it wasn’t our home. I just thought it was a really fun place.

Some of my fondest memories:

I remember my mom would bring us to The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and all of those amazing shows as a young kid and I know the tickets were from Interval House donors. I think that’s why I still love Broadway shows—those were such wonderful memories.”

I always had my blanket with me—it’s just a plain grey knitted blanket and I still have it. and it was just the best thing. It’s very big but it’s light and thin and it keeps me warm. I just love the feeling of it, the texture.”

My mom would sometimes talk about her injuries and how my dad was very quick tempered, all of a sudden good mood, bad mood and that it was unpredictable. These were only brief conversations but I don’t recall seeing the injuries.

If you or your family have spent time at the centre and would like to reconnect with Interval House or share your story, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us at info@intervalhouse.ca or call 416-924-1411 x 238.

A man holding a bottle and yelling at a woman who has her head in her hands

“I was more happy in the shelter than my own house”

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In the end, it was a fight about food that finally drove Maria* from her violent, hard-drinking husband.

She’d endured five years of physical and mental abuse, but on that final day in her home she couldn’t bear that her husband was refusing to feed his own children.

He constantly complained about having to provide, yet wouldn’t help Maria with the tools she needed to learn English (Spanish is her native tongue), get a job, or go to school.

“He hit me. He controlled the money. He cheated on me,” Maria says of the man she married.
It was an impossible situation. On the day Maria made up her mind to leave, her husband had been drinking and fighting with his own mother, and when he turned on Maria she was deeply frightened about what he might do.

“That day my children asked me for food and I didn’t have food,” Maria recalls. “I said to him, ‘I need to buy food for the children.’ He said, ‘you need to work.’ That day was enough for me. I knew I couldn’t continue like that. My children didn’t need this life.”

Maria fled with her kids — two girls, now 7 and 3 — to a community centre where staff helped them make their way to Interval House.

“I was very afraid,” Maria says. “It was new for me. I was afraid for my children because they didn’t know where we were going.”

Maria also feared what might happen if her husband somehow found her. Being outside was terrifying, so she stayed indoors most of the time. It took about two months for her to finally feel safe.

“After about two months my children were making friends,” Maria says. “We were very happy. I started to sleep well. I, too, made friends. The workers there helped me a lot with my children, with me, with my feelings. I was more happy in the shelter than my own house.”

Interval House exists to help women like Maria reinvent themselves and rebuild their lives.

Since leaving Interval House, Maria has been accepted into a transitional housing program while she waits for a permanent housing placement. She’s thrilled and proud that her children are thriving, and she knows how very far they have come.

But looking back, she acknowledges how tough it is for a woman to leave an abusive partner.

“When I lived with him I felt very scared all the time,” says Maria, now 26. “I didn’t have power in me. All the time I felt like he controlled my life. Now I feel that I have control of my own decisions and my own life. If I want to go to school I can go. If I want to find a job I feel I can do it. I feel like I can be stronger. I feel more comfortable with myself. I am now myself.”

Maria wants donors to know how much their support for Interval House means.

“I didn’t have clothes, no money, nothing for me and my children,” Maria says. “The many donations helped me. Most of the women have children. If you help and encourage the moms, the children can go forward with their life. If you help the children, they’re going to grow — and they are the future of this world.”

*Maria’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

women wearing professional clothing

BESS Success

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When a woman graduates our Building Economic Self Sufficiency (BESS) program, she is equipped with the tools she needs to rebuild, reinvent and transform her life and often, the lives of her children. Just ask Gessell.

Gessell – a mother, a survivor of partner abuse and a proud graduate of BESS – had a dream to launch her own cleaning business. After getting her business license, she knew she needed some help to proceed. She heard about BESS from a friend and enrolled. She soon found the knowledge and guidance to successfully further her business.

“When I joined the BESS program, I was at the stage where I needed to rebrand. I didn’t know much about branding. I didn’t have a slogan, a mission statement, a vision statement, a marketing plan or a business plan. And now I do,” says Gessel.

Over the course of the two-week program, Gessell learned fundamentals that will benefit her beyond her business. “We learned how to carry ourselves. I got a feel for different personalities and perspectives. I really improved my people skills,” she says.

BESS graduates like Gessell receive customized training and skills help them gain confidence and independence. “The career developer continued to work with me two hours a week, helping me with my business plan, business questions, computer skills, and my website, basically with everything. I was never felt alone,” says Gessell.

Without the BESS program, Gessell doesn’t believe she’d be as far along with her business as she is now. Gessel believes the skills she has learned have helped her be a better parent to her 13 year old son, in addition to equipping and motivating her for future business success.

In five years, Gessell sees her cleaning business thriving in a market that has a million dollar potential. And that’s exactly what she’s aiming for. She has ambitions to grow and franchise. Gessell is determined to use the business not just to make money but to also help others.

Gessell is a shining example of how Interval House and our BESS program transform lives. With the support of our generous donors, we can continue to make a life-changing difference.

“I would tell any potential Interval House donor that they’re sowing into good soil,” says Gessell. “The seed you plant may look small but it has deep roots and will grow into a mighty tree. Your donations help women rise up in strength.”

Mother and three children smiling

Interval House changed our lives

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“I arrived at Interval House as a young boy in the early 1990’s. As a new, immigrant family, my mother, siblings and I were alone with very little support.

Interval House was fundamental to our family establishing a new life in Canada – essentially in starting over. Their offer of support was almost like being given a second chance and my family took that opportunity gladly.

I was too young at the time to have been impacted as greatly as my mother and older siblings had been by the abusiveness of our previous life. But consequently, they benefitted the most from the counselling and support they received from Interval House.

That’s not to say I benefitted any less. The support Interval House was able to offer my siblings translated into the support they were able to offer me – especially my mom, and the support she was able to offer all of us.

It wasn’t easy to establish a new life after leaving Interval House.

Today, initiatives such as the BESS program give families the ability to become self-reliant. Interval House is able to provide a complete tool-kit to help families like mine establish their new lives.

Interval House definitely gave us the possibility to establish a new life and for that I am very grateful. Without the help of Interval House and its donors, our family’s future would not have been as bright as it is now.

One of my siblings is now finishing a PhD in medical school and I was able to complete my undergraduate degree in economics and finance. I am currently attending law school and expect to graduate in 2015.”

Interval House former child resident

Two children smiling at mother

A life saved, because you cared

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In Isabelle’s* home country in central Africa, not every girl was able to go to school, much less complete her education and enter the legal profession. So when she began practicing corporate law after her graduation, she didn’t take anything for granted.

And it got even better. While in law school she developed a relationship with another budding lawyer, Lionel*, and soon after they graduated they became engaged. In 1997, moved to Canada, got married and started their family.

After the births of their son and daughter, Lionel returned to their home country on business. Little did Isabelle know she would never see him again…he seemed to disappear into thin air.

Devastated, lonely and frightened, Isabelle knew she would have to find a way to support herself and her children. Because of language and educational differences she had been unable to practice law in Canada, so she ended up taking a job in a local restaurant in order to put food on the table.

One of the few bright spots was a new friendship with Claude*, a handsome young man from a country in Africa not far from her home. Isabelle and Claude began dating, and within a few months they were sharing a life together with Claude promising that he would take care of her and the children and love them forever.

It wasn’t long, though, before this dream relationship turned into a nightmare. The beatings seemed to come out of nowhere, and this man who had promised to protect Isabelle instead battered her with fists—and with words. “You aren’t worth anything. Something’s wrong with you. You can’t make anything of yourself.”

And with no one else to talk to, she began to believe he was right.

But someone took notice. Isabelle had been attending school to brush up on her English, and her instructor saw troubling signs and began to suspect something was wrong. “Isabelle,” she said, “You are not safe. You must leave before he kills you.”

As Isabelle watched her children cower in fear of Claude’s next rampage, she listened to the encouragement of her instructor. At the very next opportunity, she found the courage to file a police report. The police took her and the children straight to Interval House.

“I will never forget that day,” remembers Isabelle. “I was so frightened and I didn’t know what would happen. I was afraid to turn my back. But the staff kept saying, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’ They didn’t even know me! And they were treating me like I was family!”

“In those first days, the staff assured me that I wasn’t crazy, that I was strong and capable, and that I could make it. But BESS (Building Economic Self-Sufficiency) showed me how I could make it.” During the BESS program, Isabelle learned how to write a resume and a cover letter, how to make the most of the skills she had, and how to work toward her personal goals. “I believe in myself now,” she says with a smile. “Without BESS, that wouldn’t have been possible.”

Isabelle is now settled in her own apartment, working toward the life she dreamed of as she was growing up. And the children? They beg to go back to Interval House on Saturdays to take part in the activities they came to love!

Isabelle wants you to know that you saved her life. In fact, she is now looking for ways to give back, to contribute to the lives of other women in her shoes. “I don’t know how yet, but I will help,” she says. “Please give so that other families still have hope!”

* Real names and some details in this story have been altered to protect Isabelle’s identity.

a young girl embracing mother

What’s a mother to do?

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Mothers and daughters treasure doing many things together…but escaping abusive partners should never have to be one of them. Yet, tragically, finding a path out of violence can be one of the life events that mothers and daughters share.

Cindy* is the 46-year-old mother of four. Married for many years to a chronically controlling husband in her home in the Caribbean, Cindy endured the humiliation and pain of nearly every kind of abuse: emotional, financial, physical. But nothing could have been more painful for this mother than learning one of her daughters was being sexually abused by the same man who was abusing her.

One of the tragedies of domestic abuse is the way survivors and children of abused women can become trapped other abusive sitations. During these violent years, Cindy’s teenage daughter Tianna* became involved with a young man she imagined would protect her from the violence she had experienced. Instead, he became her abuser.

Terrified for both her daughters, Tianna and Ayanna*, Cindy made a decision to flee with her daughters and seek refuge in Canada. Tianna was by this time expecting a baby, and they were both desperate to stop the cycle of violence before yet another generation was affected.

Soon after arriving in the GTA, Cindy and her daughters heard about Interval House. Without other options to keep them safe, they decided to seek help and shelter with us while they navigated a new country, an unfamiliar job market and the maze of resources available to them.

“It was wonderful,” Cindy says. “They took us on a tour, explained all that Interval House does … They fed us a good meal and got us settled in…the staff was immediately like family to us.”

Back home, Cindy was a hairdresser. But she has always had a dream of becoming a truck driver. So staff encouraged her to take the two-week BESS program to brush up on her resume-writing, interviewing and other job skills as the first part of her preparation.

Meanwhile, Tianna, now a new mother herself, enrolled in a training program for office administration and Cindy is helping her with child care. When Tianna finishes her course, Cindy will begin her “Women in Transportation” training program at Microskills.

Both mother and daughter have high praise for the preparation and support they are receiving at Interval House. “Ladies with children need help and we don’t know where else to turn,” Cindy shared. “When we come from abuse we are lost, and when we come here the environment is like family.”

Cindy is a mother and now a grandmother…and every one of her family members has been affected and scarred by domestic abuse. But she took the courageous steps to remove all of them from danger and put them on a path to a new life full of hope.

*not their real names

Toronto skyline

Naledi: New hope in a new land

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She might have been born in Botswana, but in many ways, Naledi was you.

Like so many other girls, Naledi Marope* grew up dreaming of marrying a handsome, kind, successful young man and having a beautiful family. She knew that married life wouldn’t be easy, but she was ready and willing to work hard to see those dreams come true.

So when she married her sweetheart in 1997, she had every reason to look forward to all the good things in life. Jeremy* promised to be a good provider and seemed to share her hopes for a family and a peaceful life together. And at first, their life was blissful…

Two years into the marriage it became all too clear that their life together was to be anything but blissful. In 2005, after tolerating abuse even through two pregnancies Naledi divorced Jeremy and took her two young daughters away from their violent father. But the abuse continued with Jeremy stalking her. Naledi had to escape, leaving her daughters behind with family.

Naledi first heard about Interval House’s BESS (Building Economic Self-Sufficiency) program when she visited a settlement agency. On September 7, 2010, Naledi called Interval House and began the BESS program the following week.

Naledi believes that BESS must have been created especially for her. She completed the two-week program, including some rigorous mock interviews that prepared her for a challenging job search. She kept in close touch with our Job Developer while she looked for work in the nonprofit field, and just one month later she landed a full-time position with a nonprofit organization whose goals are close to her heart.

Still, life isn’t easy. Naledi is working on bringing her daughters to Canada. Soon they’ll be together again, pursuing the peaceful life that was so elusive in the land they love.

Meanwhile, Naledi goes to work each day working for a foundation that exists to support shelters similar to Interval House. She loves contributing to the causes that help other women going through the same things she experienced. “When I see the newsletters from the shelters, it makes me want to work even harder to give women the courage to move forward like I have,” Naledi says.

Naledi is a hero…to her daughters, her coworkers and the women she assists through the foundation that employs her. But her heroes are the friends and donors of Interval House who cared enough to give her the tools to build a new life – not the life she dreamed of as a child, perhaps, but one that gives her and her family a bright, joyful future.

You can read Naledi’s recent email to Interval House by clicking here.

*not her real name

Two women talking and smiling

Beyhan’s Story

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“Why would you settle for a job like that with all your education and experience?”

At first, Beyhan didn’t know how to answer her son. Yes, she had experience in business management and bookkeeping, and had graduated with an honours certificate as an accounting clerk.

But she also had endured so many years of abuse that her self-worth was shredded.

Beyhan became part of Interval House’s BESS (Building Economic Self Sufficiency) program, a two-week workshop where women complete a skills inventory, learn to write a resume and cover letter, conduct a job search, prepare for an interview and develop life skills.

Graduates have a 75% employment rate within their field and a 90% job retention rate.

“I was so impressed with the teaching. In BESS, I learned to speak the language of the job posting and make sure I answer their requirements. I discovered my qualifications and transferrable skills for the first time. After one week in the program, I felt I could apply for any position.”

Upon completion of the program, Beyhan and the other graduates received two sets of polished and professional clothes to help them maintain their new-found confidence and to compliment the knowledge and skills they now possess.

“When you are in an abusive relationship for so long, even if you have a strong personality, it takes away your courage. I was underestimating myself and now I’m no longer afraid. BESS gave me self-confidence. Any woman coming out of an abusive relationship needs this program.”

Our heart-felt congratulations to Beyhan for being named BESS valedictorian!

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