It was 22 years ago that Chantal Mudahogora’s entire world fell apart.
“I lost all I had,” she explained. “We were living minute by minute not knowing what was going to happen after that.”
Her country was in political unrest. Her successful career evaporated. Her mother, nephews, nieces and extended family had been killed.
Chantal became a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and one of the 2 million people displaced by the horrific tragedy. In just six weeks, over 800,000 people were killed.
Today, she lives and works in Hamilton – where she has built a close-knit community, a successful career, and a nurturing environment for her children, who are now adults.
“Obviously it hasn’t been easy – but now I feel home. I’m proud of what I have accomplished and where I have come from,” says Chantal, who now works as a Therapeutic Counsellor for people with dementia and their families.
Of course, she knows firsthand the struggles refugees face.
“We go through a lot of stages when we come here as refugees,” she explained. “We leave the troubles behind, but we carry the experiences with us.”
Shortly after she arrived in Hamilton, IWC was recommended to her. It was there she met Ines Rios, Executive Director, who she credits for not only helping her to navigate a new system, but also empowering her, encouraging her, and giving her hope that she could succeed in her new country. IWC supported her in finding her first job, but also buying her first car, getting her licence, and solidifying her immigration status in Canada.
At the time, she was working 13-hour days at multiple jobs, while parenting her daughter, and trying to sponsor her two sons.
She later went to school, got a Bachelor’s Degree, landed a job as a settlement worker, and eventually got her Masters degree in Psychotherapy. What she loves about her work in Canada has been the opportunity to give back to the community.
“I’m happy to give back to this country which gave me hope,” she said. “At some point I relied on people to help me out but now I’m in a position that I can help other people.”
She hopes her story will be an encouragement to other newcomers – especially those from war-torn countries.
“When you keep focused and work hard, you will make this place home for you,” she said. “Yes, it’s hard but it’s possible.”