Walk Leaders: Caitlin Leach and Salvator Cusimano, both of Romero House
Photographs by Jennifer Setters
I know only one Toronto: the one I’ve lived and loved for two years. This is the Toronto of the refugees that try to make their home here, and of the people that spend their lives trying to make this a city in which refugees are welcome and can build their lives in safety.
When I planned ‘Walking with Refugees in the West Bend’ I hoped to give a glimpse of this city to a handful of people by taking them to local refugee-serving organizations. I had not dreamed that sixty people would fill our small community centre at the start of the walk, that they would follow us in brilliant sunshine as we talked about this city: a city of and for refugees.
Mostly, I had not imagined the impact that would be made by inviting one refugee, at the last minute, to speak to the crowd. I’ve worked with Winnie since she arrived in Canada. I have watched her, and her beautiful son, Eli, born in January 2014, settle into their lives in Toronto. Winnie lives at Romero House, the transitional housing and settlement agency that I work for, in the West Bend neighbourhood of Toronto.
When we stopped at our local Community Health Center, Winnie held up Eli as an example of the work they do – the Community Health system provided her with pre-natal care within days of her arrival in Canada, at a time when she lacked medical insurance. Later in the walk, she sang a song that she wrote for her son. She sang about the uncertainty of a life where the threat of deportation lingers on the horizon, and about the knowledge that her life is in God’s hands.
Winnie made real for the crowd an existence marked by repeated displacement, and the threat of future upheaval, but shaped by a strength that few can fathom. She made this city her own by showing it to others. By speaking for the refugees of Toronto, she claimed it as her city, and as their city.