Sometime in 2017, Wendy Raudales and her husband were in Honduras working at the business they had started a few years earlier. On what seemed like just another day, members of a criminal organization came by making violent threats.
Gangs are a serious problem in Honduras. They exert territorial control over neighbourhoods and extort residents throughout the nation. This Central American country is caught between extreme poverty and extreme violence.
“Very few people in Honduras go to university,” Wendy explains. “My husband and I were lucky to get the chance to attend. I studied business administration and he took graphic design, so we opened our own business, into which we invested all our savings.”
But criminal gangs turned their dream into a nightmare, and the safety of Wendy, her husband and their two children became severely jeopardized.
“My father was kidnapped when I was young, and my family had to pay his ransom,” she says. “I didn’t want to live like that anymore. After a few months, we decided to leave for Canada. We sold our car, packed our bags and bought plane tickets to New York, which cost a quarter of the price of tickets to Montreal.”
A friend then drove them to the Canadian border and watched them trek across the snow to find a better life.
“We arrived in January 2018. I remember how they were talking about a historic storm on the news that day,” says Wendy. “We made our way through a blizzard with our whole lives in our luggage.”
When they got to the border, the family asked for asylum. After spending a full day in a small immigration office, Wendy came away with an asylum application document (RPCD or “brown paper”) in one hand and the address of a YMCA in the other.
“We didn’t know anyone in Quebec,” she says. “We stayed at the YMCA for 15 days.”
Only able to speak Spanish at the time, she received invaluable support to find housing from a staff member at the South Shore agency Carrefour le Moutier.
“Heated and furnished apartments, three and a half, four and a half—we didn’t understand anything he was talking about!” Wendy recalls with a laugh. “But we were so lucky he was there for us!”
At the Carrefour le Moutier, this immigrant family attended information sessions on social assistance and health tips for the winter. Most importantly, they got help from an integration counsellor who helped them secure essential documents, cards, and permits.
A new start
Just two short weeks after setting foot in Canada, Wendy and her family moved into an apartment in Greenfield Park. Three months later, she and her husband received their work permits.
“My youngest was just 4 years old when we arrived,” says Wendy. “Since asylum seekers can’t access subsidized daycare, I didn’t really have a choice but to stay home with her.”
Wendy was still able to enroll in French classes for six hours a week. The Carrefour le Moutier provides a free babysitting service for parents while they learn French.
It wasn’t until the start of the 2019 school year that Wendy could devote herself full time to her French studies while her two daughters attended school.
“It’s very difficult to integrate if you don’t speak French,” explains the Honduran native. “My husband and I decided to put in the effort and spent two whole years learning the language.”
Meanwhile, in the summer of 2019, their status changed from asylum seekers to accepted refugees.
A key encounter
In 2021, a friend told Wendy about a project that supports immigrant women at an agency in the Centre-Sud neighbourhood called the Carrefour des ressources en Interculturel (CRIC). When telling her story of time in Canada, Wendy says that there was life “before the CRIC” and “after the CRIC.”
Wendy discovered this agency through Femmes-Relais, the CRIC’s flagship project that helps mostly immigrant women with their social and professional integration. “Staff at the CRIC changed my life,” Wendy says. “I had no idea what I wanted to do, especially since my degree isn’t recognized here.”
“This was a chance for me to reinvent myself.” For a year, Wendy did training and an internship as a community liaison at the CRIC. Every day, she met women who, like her, had to acclimate to a new culture while coping with the traumas of their migratory journeys. Her greatest joy has been helping others find their place.
One day, Wendy said, “I would help immigrants for the rest of my life, even if I didn’t get paid!”—a sentiment shared wholeheartedly by the staff member she was talking to.
Shortly thereafter, Wendy applied to the bachelor’s program in social work at Université du Québec à Montréal. “Applying took a lot of courage and effort,” she says. “The women at the CRIC really motivated and supported me. I couldn’t have done it without them. When I got my letter from UQÀM, I couldn’t believe my eyes. They accepted me!” she recounts with pride.
This Honduran family now has permanent resident status. Wendy is continuing her studies, and her husband will finish his program in 3D animation in a few months. Their daughters are fully integrated and, as their mother tells it, they love the snow. “We’re here for life,” she says, forever grateful for her welcome in Quebec.
What if Wendy had arrived in January 2023?
Since the time Wendy’s family immigrated from Honduras in January 2018, the situation in Canada has significantly changed. The year 2022 was marked by an unprecedented surge in refugee and asylum-seeking people and families.
We therefore compared current wait times in different areas with Wendy’s experience in 2018:
*Immigration Canada adopted a new procedure in November 2022 to expedite work permits granted to asylum seekers. The wait times for these permits should therefore quickly improve.
 Source: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/honduras
 Source: https://www.centraide-mtl.org/en/blog/what-does-the-vital-signs-report-reveal-about-housing-in-montreal/
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