Marlene Henry describes her experience as the textbook case for the challenges of the settlement experience. Hers is also a story of perseverance, tenacity – and never being afraid to fail.
"If somebody is writing a book on the challenges of the settlement experience, come see me. Because I've lived it."
I migrated here from Jamaica with my family in 1991. At the time I was pregnant with my second child. My first was four. After a year in Canada, my marriage dissolved, and I was on my own with the kids. After many years of working menial jobs, I decided to go back to school to qualify to do service work through Seneca's Social Service Worker – Immigrant and Refugee (SSWI) program. Having founded my own charity, Helping Hands International, and given my own experience, I knew this was the stream I wanted to follow.
The transition was difficult. Financially it was a struggle. Throughout my two years of study, I stayed with family and friends, sleeping on their floors. If not for the support and counselling I received at Seneca, I would have given up. But I was encouraged by my professors to continue and I graduated with honours. During my time at Seneca I was a student mentor, and I often used my story as an example for others. I want others who are coming up and facing similar challenges to draw from my experience and say, if she did it, I can.
In February of 2013, I had the chance to go to Jamaica on a field placement as part of the SSW Jamaica Project. I worked with the deported community there. It really showed me the challenges that deportees have when they go abroad, and when they go back to their home countries. There are so many barriers. I met with them, I heard their stories, I cried. I was determined that I wanted to go back to Jamaica to help. That's what drove me to further my education at Algoma University, where I recently completed my degree in Community Development.
I can celebrate my story now. Back then it was hard. I was suffering. And I used to ask, Lord why? And then I found out, why not? Life is always about challenges. We're not immune to suffering. We'll never be. How we celebrate it, how we share it – that's what makes us strong.
"Life is always about challenges. How we celebrate it, how we share it – that's what makes us strong."
Katelyn went from Seneca student to being a voice for those without one.