Help goes a long way


Fatu was able to thrive after arriving in Canada as a refugee with the help of the United Way. SUBMITTED

Fatu was able to thrive after arriving in Canada as a refugee with the help of the United Way. SUBMITTED

Last year, more than 20,000 local residents accessed community-based programs and services supported by United Way Simcoe Muskoka. This is one of their stories.


In July 2014, Fatu arrived in Canada as a refugee from Ivory Coast, where her first language was French. Alone except for her six-year-old daughter (who has special needs) and her 14-year-old niece, she moved to our region. In Africa, she was a shopkeeper. When her first grocery store was destroyed in her country's civil war, she opened a new store. This second shop was later destroyed as well and her hometown, the country's capital city of Abidjan, became too dangerous to stay.

Upon arrival in Canada, Fatu was told she would need to go to school or to get a job. Needing to also care for her daughter, she was overwhelmed.

"I didn't even know where to start," she recalls.

She soon learned there was community-based help available.

Sponsored by the local United Church, she found friends ("They're still like family!") and the time she needed to start over. Newcomer services at the local YMCA office referred her to Gateway Centre for Learning (a United Way-funded agency) where she used a computer for the very first time and attended the centre's job-skills program. She accepted the challenge of her situation with enthusiasm.

"I wanted to see how much I could do," says Fatu, who doesn't like to be dependent upon others. "They helped me a whole lot."

After three months, she was volunteering at the YMCA and sending out her new resumés. She soon got a job at a restaurant and continued to upgrade her skills to further her employment prospects. She also started volunteering to give back and gain more experience.

"My prayers have been answered," she smiles. "A very big thank you to everyone who helped me -- I'm very, very grateful."

According to Community Literacy of Ontario, four in 10 Ontarians aged 15 and older do not have the literacy skills needed to meet the demands of modern life. More than 16 per cent struggle with very serious literacy challenges. United Way Simcoe Muskoka invests in community-based employability programs and school success programs.

United Way is changing local lives. You can help. Local giving. Local results.

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