In June 2016, Sheqofah and her 22 year old daughter Nazanin sat down with New Circles to share their family’s settlement journey. A week earlier, Nazanin had graduated from Ryerson University with a BA in Criminal Justice and is now planning to apply to law school. It’s a long way from the village of Badakhshan in northern Afghanistan where Sheqofah grew up and was married to her cousin at fourteen. Faced with civil war and daily violence, they soon decided to flee the country.
Sheqofah arrived in Thorncliffe Park in 2005 with her husband, six children and another on the way. As refugees, the family had just two pairs of clothing each. The children brought their old school uniforms and wore them to school every day.
Sponsored by the government, they had a monthly allowance of $700 for rent and $1,000 for the rest of their expenses. After a year, they starting getting an additional $500 in monthly child tax benefits, but the family struggled; seven hundred dollars a month for rent was not enough. As well, they had to reimburse the government almost $13,000 for the cost of their travel to Canada.
It was a great relief when a friend told Sheqofah about New Circles soon after she arrived. When she first came, she needed everything on the list for her family, so she took all that she could. “I was so happy. Before I could only window shop, but now I could actually bring home some clothes for my family.” That first time, Sheqofah got two tank tops she still wears to this day.
Without having to spend money on clothes, Sheqofah was able to spend more money on food, and buy healthier things, such as fruit, vegetables and meat.
Meanwhile, Nazanin was getting teased at school because she wore the same thing every day, her old school uniform. She says, “Kids really notice what you wear, especially if you came with your traditional clothing. It’s hard because you want to dress the way Western kids do, but can’t afford to.” She adds, “Teen shopping days are great; I was happy to find brand name clothes. It increases your self-confidence when your clothing is good, you can go to school with pride.”
Right away, Sheqofah started volunteering to give back and help others in the community. “It was good to be somewhere where people were mostly speaking English and I made friends there as well. In fact, all the English I know came from New Circles.”
Sheqofah spoke about the many different ways that New Circles has helped her family through tough times. In 2007, they got their first computer through the Holiday Angel program. Jane Craig, our former Executive Director, would call to let her know whenever we got a delivery of diapers because “diapers are so expensive.”
Had they stayed in Afghanistan, the family's future would have been very bleak, assuming they all survived. With the Taliban and ISIS, life is not safe or secure and unemployment is very high. Girls like Nazanin get married very young and opportunities are simply not there for the children. Instead, Nazanin volunteered at New Circles to get high school community hours and got a summer job here in 2012. She credits the experience with getting a retail job at the Scarborough Town Centre, as well as helping her get a scholarship from Ryerson recognizing her volunteer leadership. “I am proud to volunteer at New Circles. Last year, I got two scholarships totalling $6,500,” she said.
And Sheqofah is paying her good fortune forward. “I have a friend now who is struggling and I’ll be bringing her to New Circles,” she says.