Adrienne Carter often sees people at the weakest moment in their lives.
As one of the founders of the Vancouver Island Counselling Centre for Immigrants and Refugees, Carter helps people who are suffering from the impact of trauma.
Over the past few years, she’s heard countless horror stories of people who have fled their home country. Many male refugees were imprisoned, tortured and thrown into isolation. Women were repeatedly sexually assaulted and children watched as their homes were destroyed by bombs. Many lost friends and family in unimaginable ways.
“Many of the people here have experienced a lot of trauma and torture, but they have never been able to receive help,” said Carter, who spent more than 15 years abroad as a psychotherapist, trainer and supervisor to those who have experienced trauma. “We have entire families that have been traumatized in their country.”
But coming to Canada in search of a new life also means a chance for healing – which is what the counselling centre aims to do.
As part of the program, which runs out of the St. Peter’s Church in Saanich, roughly 20 to 25 experienced counsellors and 10 to 15 translators volunteer their time to help refugees and immigrants from more than 25 countries, including Syria, China, Thailand, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.
Refugees of all ages come from around Greater Victoria, including many in Langford and Colwood, to receive help.
Since its inception three years ago, the centre has received 171 referrals from various settlement organizations such as the Vancouver Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society and the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, as well as through sponsorship groups or medical practitioners.
When refugees come to the program, they are often depressed, angry and some are severely suicidal, Carter said. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as well.
But even after a few sessions, Carter can already see difference.
“People are getting better. You can see their improvement. Just allowing people to share what is on their heart, to talk about some of these stories is really making a difference,” she said. “They are more able to start resolving the issues that have been bothering them . . there is sense of relief that there is hope that they are going to make it.”
Now, the Step One Services Society, a local non-profit organization, is aiming to raise funds to help the centre during an event in Metchosin this weekend.
Building Our Community is a free family-friendly event and includes live entertainment including performances by the Metchosin Marimba Band, a silent auction, refreshments, and kids activities. Funds raised go towards the centre.
“It’s about building community, it’s about creating safe communities,” said Step One Services Society secretary Nan Hsieh. “The adults that have dealt with so much, they come in with a lot of anger and justifiably, they lost everything and more. If they feel enveloped by their community and supported and they’re helped to find resources and connections, that creates in them a feeling of safety, but it also creates a feeling of community.”
Building Our Community takes place on Sunday, March 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Metchosin Community Hall (4401 William Head Rd.) For more information visit Step One Services Society on Facebook.