Supporting Refugee Mothers in Settlement and Empowerment, One Step at a Time

The woman sitting across me kept pushing for a program that would lead to livelihood generation for refugee mothers.

“It is really tough; women face trauma, confusion, and depression when they realize that the dream of a sanctuary in Canada after years of enduring conflict and displacement is infested with bed bugs, offers scant resources, and is compounded by isolation. Earning while gaining a skill can give them a boost and help meet their needs” – RHH Home Visitor

Though she sat in a room full of people who needed no convincing, her compassion and commitment shone through her words. I was attending a Pre-Service Training for a program titled Reviving Hope and Home (RHH), a pilot funded by IRCC and delivered by ISSofBC that focuses on supporting the most vulnerable and isolated Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) mothers.

Canada’s Refugee Intake

According to UNHCR’s Global Trends report 2018, Canada took in the largest number of refugees last year globally; admitting 28,100 out of 92,400 refugees who were resettled in 25 countries last year. Welcoming and settling refugees is a multi-layered complex task considering the diverse needs, contexts and pace of adjustment for various families. Most families come from long stays in temporary settlements, refugee camps, war torn or conflict prone regions with prevalent gender inequities. Many families are traumatized, have no resources and do not have language skills. Women and young girls are hardest hit due to under exposure, low/no social mobility and limited confidence contributing to further isolation. They are sometimes victims of abuse and harassment which goes unnoticed and unaddressed. Once in Canada their vulnerabilities can be further exacerbated by continued isolation and lack of facilities or inadequate access to resources that address their needs. If these women have children the entire family is affected. This obstructs settlement despite services being available. In such scenarios, one approach cannot fit all for settlement.

RHH Meets Refugee’s Unique Settlement Needs

RHH has been running for a year at ISSofBC and the home visitors and community navigators associated with the project emphasize its flexibility to adapt to the needs of families and the authority they have in pacing the HIPPY curriculum as the defining and most successful features of the pilot. While the needs of vulnerable newly arrived refugees may be similar to some extent; families must be given a chance to address their prioritized needs first. RHH meets mothers where they are and assists them in their journey to settlement in Canada through catalyzing the process.

Challenges in Delivering RHH

Throughout the RHH Pre-Service Training, ISSofBC staff shared their initial challenges with the program. These included understanding how to/how much to adapt the HIPPY curriculum, gauging families’s most pressing needs, combining forces with outreach workers, and making the appropriate referrals. This was challenging because these activities required a lot of work; it wasn’t just standard support; it was tailored support for each family. It required consultation, discussion, prioritization and handholding for the GAR mothers. While the work was challenging initially, small milestones reached by mothers in the programme uplifted staff’s morale.

“When I got to know that the woman who had never stepped foot outside her house or camp, who said that going out on the street she felt like everyone and everything is coming to get her had independently taken a bus to come to our group meeting, my heart burst with pride.” – RHH Home Visitor

The Mothers Matter Centre and ISSofBC as project partner have tackled these challenges through the first year of the course’s implementation. Almost all families in RHH wished to seek financial support; some for very basic needs – the provision of resource bank in the programme greatly helped address these needs. Addressing these needs helped mothers advance forward in finding their way in Canada. Some families required food assistance, some required support for transportation and some required support for translation.

“If a mother is telling me she does not have food for her children or if she is feeling sick, I cannot deliver HIPPY curriculum nor can I expect her to engage her child in HIPPY activities. Being fed and being healthy are presumptions for HIPPY or any type of settlement to work.” – RHH Home Visitor

The implementation so far confirms that needs vary across families and addressing them in order of priority (attributed by families) expedites their settlement. The initial steps towards settlement require more resources and take more time but they are worth investing in for they provide families a dignified start for settling in Canada. This helps them to positively contribute in the society and in the economy.

The Future of RHH

RHH will continue supporting and celebrating success of mothers; small but formative milestones at a time. The plans for next year take into account the learning from implementation in year 1. Year 2 will also include introducing a Rumie device tablet for mothers to increase digital literacy and support mothers in navigating resources/services available in Canada.

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