Written by Yasmine Youssef, Program Manager for Nisa Homes.
With a heavy heart, I put down my phone after answering the third call of the day–yet another woman with a young child who was seeking refuge at a shelter is now looking to leave since the shelter was co-ed and she feared for her child given the large number of cases of other residents with drug and alcohol addictions. She felt helpless and ashamed about her situation. Earlier in the day, I had received a call from a woman who had nowhere to sleep but the masjid. Before that, another call from a woman who just arrived in Canada without any money, wasn’t able to communicate in English and had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Unfortunately for these women, Nisa Homes is already at full capacity. The best I could do was to give them words of support and connect them to other limited community resources until we have space at Nisa Homes.
Nisa Homes is the first and only transitional shelter for Muslim women and children in Canada. We provide women with a safe place to stay and services to help them get on their feet after traumatic experiences such as domestic violence, homelessness and fleeing war or violence.
Many times, the women we provide shelter to are those who live in the same neighborhoods as us, who buy food at the same grocery stores and whose kids go to the same school as ours. They used to work, had a steady income, a good home and even a good car. They were involved in community events and activities.
But one day, a crisis strikes their family and after an unfortunate series of event, they lose everything. They lose their home, their family, their safety net, their sense of security and stability. These crises include physical destruction of their homes, death of a family member, a bad financial choice that cost them everything they have or domestic violence. They have the ability and the skills to get back on their feet–they just need a helping hand to direct them through the initial trauma and struggle. Having to come to a transitional shelter is usually not by choice, it’s by necessity.
One of our residents was a young mother of two. Her husband divorced her and kicked her and their kids’ out of the house. She told us she had been staying with a friend for almost a month, but she needed to leave since her friend would be hosting her own family and needed the space. She had no one else she could turn to for help.
She was extremely hesitant to reach out to us because she was worried that her husband would find her. We reassured her that the location of our homes was completely confidential and only those who worked or have stayed at the house know the address. She arrived at Nisa Homes that same night with her children in tow. All of their belongings, just some clothes she was quickly able to grab, were gathered in a garbage bag. She told us they had their marital issues but she never thought he would actually kick her out on to the street. After attempts at reconciling with her husband failed during her stay at Nisa Homes, we started working on finding her a job and stability. Alhamdulillah, today she has a full-time job, a great apartment to call home, is completely self-sufficient and even volunteers in the community.
Another resident called us on a cold and snowy day last winter. She had gone from one motel to the other with the financial help of a few charities but had exhausted all resources with no stability in sight. She had walked across the U.S.-Canada border on foot, with her children. She was born and raised in an upper middle-class family in the Middle East. Her husband decided he wanted to emigrate to the U.S. Two dates after the big move, her husband informed her that she was on her own now, he wanted to start a new life in the U.S. and would be marrying someone else.
She was in shock. She begged and pleaded with him, asking him to consider their children’s future. He told her they were her responsibility now. She could barely speak and understand English, she had no friends or family to turn to. She packed some of their clothes and necessities in a bag and decided to walk over to Canada in search of a better life. We were able to accommodate her and the kids for a few months during which her refugee claim was granted in Canada. She and her kids were able to enroll in school, find a place to rent and gain independence and freedom. She doesn’t know how she did it or where she got the courage from, but she knows she can’t look back now, for her children’s sake.
These are just two examples of the numerous women whom Nisa Homes has assisted. Women who had nowhere else to turn, but are ready to strive and work hard for a better life for themselves and their children. When given the support and help they need, at places like Nisa Homes, they not only survive but thrive and are able to give back and support other women experiencing similar difficulties and to the community at large.
The Prophet (PBUH) said, “The one who looks after and works for a widow and for a poor person, is like a warrior fighting for Allah’s Cause or like a person who fasts during the day and prays all the night.” [Bukhari]
This year, with your help, we hope to expand Nisa Homes further so we can assist every woman and child that reaches out to us for help. To donate, get involved and learn more about the work we do, visit our page.