Devi is the mother of three boys, aged five, 18 and 20. She had a fourth son, but he was killed by bandits in Guyana on Valentine’s Day, 2004.
“He had just graduated from an advanced class in school,” she says, “and was very bright. He was set to go to university".
Violence was part of Devi’s life even earlier. When she was 11, her father was murdered by a mob. As a result of her father’s tragedy, Devi grew up with an over-protective mother. “Life was not easy, but we survived,” she says.
She married at the age of 23 and raised her children in a community where she felt confident that her children were safe given their strong friendships with the other children in the neighborhood. “My kids were viewed as role models in the community,” she says.
The murder of her son, who was 18 at the time, put an end to that comfort and she applied for refugee status to come to Canada. Her husband, with whom she has since separated, stayed in Guyana and Devi and her three boys moved in with relatives in Toronto.
“We managed, but with three children and my youngest, then a toddler, we were a burden.”
Devi learned about a job skills program in Toronto, funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and came away with valuable computer and office administration skills.
Currently, Devi works 30 hours a week at a community outreach program. She explains that she wants to continue there because “I want to give back to them. I don’t know how they manage, but they are always there for us. We never feel like a burden.”
As a result of the programs and the support of counsellors she received, “I am a different person,” Devi says. “I have self-esteem, goals and a sense of direction.”
“I lost one son in Guyana, but in coming to Canada, I have managed to save another son,” she says, explaining that her 18-year-old son has glaucoma and is taking treatments. “In Guyana, he would not have been able to do that.”
He hopes to attend York University in the fall with OSAP funding and 46-year-old Devi has already started a scholarship program for her five-year-old. Her oldest son has had to go to work but she hopes he will go to university eventually, too.
I know it’s not going to be easy, but I want to be independent, be a role model for my kids and see them succeed in life. Whatever it takes, I will do it.”
“I am giving it all I’ve got,” she laughs.