Growing up at Christie Free from Fear
“I think I am much more grown up now than before I left Mexico. Before I left, I was so shy.” A poised young woman sits before me, polished and articulate. She explains that what she enjoyed most about her recent work placement at a Mexican restaurant was being given her own chef’s station in the kitchen. “I liked having my own space where there was a place to put everything and I could keep it organized” She draws a rectangle in front of herself to show me the size of her station and mimes tucking a knife to one side of a board.
The Journey from Mexico to Canada
Eleni is twenty, a university student, and has agreed to share her story with Christie’s Communications staff. Eleni was 15 when her parents announced their decision to move and she told her mother she would rather stay in Mexico with her aunt and grandmother. Eleni has a close relationship with her grandmother as, when she was growing up, she spent everyday after school at her grandmothers in the kitchen. Her grandmother would cook, her aunt would bake, and Eleni learned to love being in kitchens.
Her mother told her that she couldn’t bear to leave her behind – she would miss her and it wasn’t safe for them in their home country. On her last night in her old home, Eleni’s friends took her out for tacos and then stayed up all night with her listening to music and talking. At three in the morning, her grandparents arrived to drive them all the way to the international airport in the capital city. Six hours later, they walked through Christie’s doors and into a room full of dancing and familiar Spanish music. Eleni and her family happened to arrive just as Christie’s kitchen managers were enjoying an evening break. Maria Victoria and Fritz would become good friends to the family and even invite Eleni into the kitchen to make cupcakes when they discovered her love of baking.
Advocating for her Family and Pursuing her Dreams
Christie was a safe place to come home to after long days at a new school or even longer appointments where Eleni acted as interpreter for her parents. Eleni is currently studying Culinary Management at George Brown and she credits the staff at Christie for making this possible. Carol, Shelter Program Coordinator at Christie, helped her choose a high school with an excellent ESL program. Settlement workers like Manuel, connected her with volunteer opportunities where she gained confidence and became conversant in English. She has discovered that she likes trying new things. And when her high school told her she could only take college level courses, Manuel encouraged her to advocate for herself, again and again, until she was moved into the university stream. Eleni says that at first she was tagging along with her parents to their meetings but, as she made decisions about university applications and applying for school loans, she found herself more and more in meetings of her own.
Eleni suprised me by saying that she and her mother think of their time at Christie as one of the best times of their lives. When I press she explains how much they enjoyed the community here. “Before we left Mexico, I saw my mother very little. I did not want to come to Canada and I was afraid of what it would be like here. Sharing a room with my mom, we became much closer and we became friends with people who were from everywhere. We still talk to those friends” This is our hope at Christie, that every client would experience safety, support and true welcome both to our community and to Canada.
This piece was written in 2019 and previously shared in a Christie Refugee Welcome Centre Annual Report.
However, Eleni’s story is just as relevant and important today!