We Belong Here

Happy Pride everyone! In the spirit of celebration, we’d like to share the story of two refugees who came to Canada with nothing and are currently building amazing futures for themselves.

In Canada, same sex relationships are part of the cultural landscape. Unfortunately, this is not the case in some parts of the world. In regions, like the Middle East, being in a same sex relationship may land you in jail, or may result in execution.

Being female, in the Middle East, comes with its own rules and restrictions. For many, their bodies are hidden by their non-descript robes, they cannot go anywhere without a male escort, and the family decides who they shall marry.

Amal and Nour were in love. The only place that they could meet on their own was at the university. Even then, it was extremely dangerous. They knew that their love could mean their deaths. Realizing that they had no hope and no future in their homeland, they began to research countries that were 2SLGBTQAI+ friendly. Canada came up as the number one gay-friendly country in the world.

Hindered by COVID, the escape took three years to plan. They had booked a one-month stay at a hotel in Vancouver. During that month they thought that they would figure out what they were going to do, in this new city/country. When the day came, they booked a cab with a female driver, an ally. All cabbies are obligated to report such activity, but this driver waited until they were in the air, before she reported the incident.

When Amal and Nour landed in Vancouver they were shocked to discover that their dads had cancelled the hotel booking and locked their bank accounts. “Our fathers are able to access their daughter’s or son’s bank accounts, government details — everything. So, my father and their father blocked our bank accounts, stole our money, and cancelled the hotel booking, which made us homeless and broke at the same time, out of nowhere. We didn’t expect that. We knew that legal guardians have power over their children, but we didn’t know that they had this much power.” Said Amal.

They went to the Immigrant Services Society (ISS) and shared their story. ISS found them shelter at Directions Youth Services. While at Directions, they met with a staff member. Fortunately, the staff member spoke their native language as the two couldn’t communicate well in English. Since the couple were going to need shelter and other supports for quite a while the staff at Directions began looking for somewhere for them to go. That’s when Amal and Nour were referred to CHV.

“Covenant House staff were welcoming and showed empathy towards us.” Said Amal. Since staying at CHV, their social worker helped coordinate activities for them as well as enabling to have new experiences, including their first ever Pride event.

“2022 was our first public Pride event, which was the Pride Parade. And it took us a lot of courage to go into the public and hold hands and walk with pride, in front of the whole city and show everyone that this is us!” Said Amal. “Yes, courage to be who we are.” Echoed Nour.

Never having been able to be themselves in public, the two talked to their counsellors, social worker and other staff to make sure that it was okay and safe. “We talked with everyone that is going to be walking with us and felt connected and felt like we’re going to be in a safe place.”

The day before the Parade, one of the counsellors had the art studio open and had costume pieces, accessories, and materials to make signs that the youth could carry in the parade. Everyone had a lot of fun and Amal and Nour put their outfits together, which was the first time that they got to chose what clothes they wanted to wear. “I really wanted to wear something nice and something special as I didn’t have anything. I got this skirt with rainbow colours and Nour got a really shiny top.”

When describing how it felt to walk in front of over half a million strangers, Amal said, “I was wearing something I want to wear not a long black cloth, that’s covering me from top to bottom, which was not my choice to wear — I was forced to. So, wearing something that I want to and being myself, being next to who I love and being with people that support me, just made me feel like I belong here. I saw everyone being happy and everyone expressing themselves. They were just singing and laughing and even though I walked in front of the strangers, I felt that they’re not there to judge and they’re not there to shame or do anything bad. They came all the way to watch the parade and be supportive.”

When asked what their goals were, while at CHV, Amal said, “Nour received a scholarship, with CHV’s help, and is now in a dental assistant program. I am in a job training program at NPower, which is a free program to help young people train for jobs, and I’m training to be a data analyst.”

“Our ultimate goal is to get housing. Nour and I are going to move in together and maybe in the future start a family.”

When asked why it is important to support organizations, like CHV, Amal said, “Because youth are the future of the community. So, if you invest in your future, you’re going to be in investing in your youth. I had to start from zero and it wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t because I made bad choices. I’m proud of being here and I’m proud of who I am and being in a new country, new place and having no support. No one knows you here and suddenly you are at Covenant House. Everyone here is your family, and everyone is wanting to help you from youth workers to kitchen staff to literally everyone. There are social workers and counsellors, and they are all here for one reason — to help build futures for the youth and to make sure that the youth are going to have a stable future.”