This fall, the Vancouver & Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Support Services Society is offering a leadership training program for immigrant, refugee and visible minority women who have experienced abuse at home.
“Some elements are key in their lives,” says Shashi Assanand, executive director of VLMFSS. “[It means] being independent, responsible, and learning how to make a decision.”
She emphasizes self-development and decision-making as the tools that broaden women’s opportunities.
Anna Foschi, who works directly with the participants, hopes it will give them the opportunity to explore their own strengths.
VLMFSS formed in 1991 when Immigrant Visible Minority Women of BC submitted a proposal to the B.C. government to set up a non-profit organization aimed at serving women and their families experiencing domestic violence. Through its initiatives like the Leadership Training Program and The Children Who Witness Abuse Program, VLMFSS offers free individual and group counseling, advocacy and support.
Foschi works with women who were abused by their partners.
“It is meaningful for women to find a circle of community, because some women simply need to be heard,” she says.
Foschi believes VLMFSS offers a safe atmosphere where women are protected by confidentiality and are able to share their stories. Foschi, through her sessions, tries to raise the level of self-awareness and self-knowledge of women who have experienced abuse.
Recently, she worked with a woman who could not speak clearly or assertively. After undergoing simple discussion sessions, Foschi’s client became firmer and more confident in her speech.
“We don’t even teach them, but we ask them to share. They have their own voices to express themselves.” Foschi says.
Immigrant and refugee women are often most vulnerable when it comes to different kinds of violence. According to Foschi, women facing language and cultural barriers in Canada also deal with past experiences of violence in their home countries.
“Some women come from countries where there is an ongoing war, so it is important for them to make a circle and get to know each other,” Foschi says. “When we are alone, there would be a lot more difficulties in our lives.”
Mary Smyth, a counsellor and psychotherapist in Vancouver, who specializes in family violence, says some cultures justify violence against women.
“Those women should be educated that they live in Canada where violence is not allowed by law,” Smyth says.
She believes immigrant women have to change their fundamental recognition of woman’s rights, so they can rebuild their lives.
Foschi first learned about family violence through a TV series she helped produce as a journalist. She decided she wanted to join an organization that helped women like the ones who inspired her in the show.
“I wanted to get involved with helping those women and give them a hand,” she says.
When she started working for VLMFSS, Foschi was astonished by the realities of women who have been abused.
But Foschi knew her work was having a clear impact on her clients’ lives. She had one woman report she learned that “[it] is not the person we are angry at but their actions which make us angry; anger is not bad, how we deal with it is important; how anger happens and how I can deal with it better.” Another participant learned how to be more assertive and improved her self-esteem. She found the sessions very educational and uplifting, according to Foschi.
Even so, Foschi still can’t believe there are so many women suffering from violence.
“I never can get used to seeing [them], even now,” she says.
For more information about VLMFSS and their programs, visit www.vlmfss.ca.