The single mother of four spent seven years in a UN refugee camp in Ecuador after fleeing her native Colombia.
Rosmira Valencia, who left her native Colombia almost 20 years ago to flee the country’s war against drug-trafficking guerrillas, was relieved to eventually find the warmth and safety of the charity workers near her home in Burnaby.
The single mother of four spent seven years in a UN refugee camp in Ecuador before immigrating to Quebec, where she lived for eight years. She came to B.C. four years ago.
“She left or fled Colombia because of violence, because it wasn’t safe there,” said Alba Correa, an outreach worker at Burnaby Neighbourhood House who also acted as a Spanish-speaking interpreter for Valencia. “She was so lost when I met her. She was so down.”
Correa was assigned to help Valencia at the neighbourhood house, one of several charities that benefits from readers’ donations to the Empty Stocking Fund, The Province’s annual Christmas fundraiser that has been helping folks across B.C. for 102 years.
Valencia, who speaks Spanish and French, was overwhelmed with the care of her son, now 11, (she also has a daughter about to turn 14, a son, seven, and a 22-year-old son) who needs her constant attention and frequent doctors’ visits because of developmental issues that a year ago were officially diagnosed as autism.
She would like to be able to work and to learn English because “she’s a person who likes to do many things, she is so active,” but she’s unable to because of her son’s needs, said Correa over a three-way Zoom call.
“She was totally isolated,” said Correa. “The schools didn’t know how to handle him. She doesn’t go anywhere because of the child.”
When Correa was assigned to Valencia’s family, Valencia felt as if an angel had landed in her life.
“She said she was the happiest woman in the world because she found someone (Correa) from her own country,” Correa said.
Valencia gets helps from the house dealing with schools, filling out forms, “anything she needs, she calls Alba,” said Correa. “It’s a huge support.”
And at Christmases past, the non-profit group was able to provide the family with a hamper and the chance to attend the annual holiday party.
“She was very grateful for those things because she doesn’t feel alone for Christmas,” said Correa.
This year, there will be no Christmas party and the hamper will come in the form of gift cards instead of presents because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The family struggles financially, and her eldest son had to withdraw from a post-secondary business education so he could work, Correa said.
“Now she is doing much better,” said Correa. “She doesn’t feel that isolation because she has the neighbourhood house. It is also her emotional support.”
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