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A place to belong


I moved to Canada because my family needed a safe place to live. We couldn’t live freely because we were Tamil, the minority in Sri Lanka. During the civil war, my youngest daughter lost her left foot. She had several surgeries and then it was amputated. She was only ten.

Because of my daughter’s injury, we went to India where we lived as refugees for 10 years. We lived in a refugee camp. It was very difficult because we had no way to earn money. We moved out of the camp and I became a program coordinator for an NGO there, helping other Sri Lankan refugees.

My wife died while we were in India, so when I moved to Vaughan in 2002, I lived with my older daughter, her husband and their three daughters. While my granddaughters were in school and my daughter and her husband were at work, I was in the house alone. I felt stressed and lonely—I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I just watched TV all day.

My daughter was very worried about me. She found out about a United Way-supported seniors’ program where I could speak and exercise with other people my age. I attended on opening day, in 2005. Back then, there were maybe just four or five of us—today there are nearly 200. I’ve been attending ever since—it makes me feel happy to be there.

When I’m alone at home, I get stuck on bad thoughts. But when I go to the program, I can focus on more positive things. I’ve made friends from many different communities and met other seniors who are Tamil. We talk about what’s going on back home and my Tamil friends share news about people we know who still live there. I even met a friend who I knew in Sri Lanka who I had not seen in 30 years! It’s really nice to have friends here.

We also do yoga and meditation, which is very helpful for our mental health. One of my friends and I also grow produce in the program’s community garden—eggplant, tomato, beans and kale leaves. That way, not only are we getting food, but we are also getting exercise.

I’ve also had the opportunity to learn more about computers. Coming to Canada, I didn’t know anything about technology. Through the program, I learned how to start a computer and browse the internet. Now I read the Tamil news, which used to be difficult to find. I also learned to use email and social media, where I can talk to friends. My youngest daughter lives in France now, and I use the internet to talk to her and her children. She sends me photos and videos.

I get so many benefits from attending this program: I learn about Canadian culture. I feel less lonely and stressed. I get regular exercise and get to see people and attend classes. It helps my body and my mind. I am very happy here.

- Arumugam
United Way program participant