In Isabelle’s* home country in central Africa, not every girl was able to go to school, much less complete her education and enter the legal profession. So when she began practicing corporate law after her graduation, she didn’t take anything for granted.
And it got even better. While in law school she developed a relationship with another budding lawyer, Lionel*, and soon after they graduated they became engaged. In 1997, moved to Canada, got married and started their family.
After the births of their son and daughter, Lionel returned to their home country on business. Little did Isabelle know she would never see him again…he seemed to disappear into thin air.
Devastated, lonely and frightened, Isabelle knew she would have to find a way to support herself and her children. Because of language and educational differences she had been unable to practice law in Canada, so she ended up taking a job in a local restaurant in order to put food on the table.
One of the few bright spots was a new friendship with Claude*, a handsome young man from a country in Africa not far from her home. Isabelle and Claude began dating, and within a few months they were sharing a life together with Claude promising that he would take care of her and the children and love them forever.
It wasn’t long, though, before this dream relationship turned into a nightmare. The beatings seemed to come out of nowhere, and this man who had promised to protect Isabelle instead battered her with fists—and with words. “You aren’t worth anything. Something’s wrong with you. You can’t make anything of yourself.”
And with no one else to talk to, she began to believe he was right.
But someone took notice. Isabelle had been attending school to brush up on her English, and her instructor saw troubling signs and began to suspect something was wrong. “Isabelle,” she said, “You are not safe. You must leave before he kills you.”
As Isabelle watched her children cower in fear of Claude’s next rampage, she listened to the encouragement of her instructor. At the very next opportunity, she found the courage to file a police report. The police took her and the children straight to Interval House.
“I will never forget that day,” remembers Isabelle. “I was so frightened and I didn’t know what would happen. I was afraid to turn my back. But the staff kept saying, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’ They didn’t even know me! And they were treating me like I was family!”
“In those first days, the staff assured me that I wasn’t crazy, that I was strong and capable, and that I could make it. But BESS (Building Economic Self-Sufficiency) showed me how I could make it.” During the BESS program, Isabelle learned how to write a resume and a cover letter, how to make the most of the skills she had, and how to work toward her personal goals. “I believe in myself now,” she says with a smile. “Without BESS, that wouldn’t have been possible.”
Isabelle is now settled in her own apartment, working toward the life she dreamed of as she was growing up. And the children? They beg to go back to Interval House on Saturdays to take part in the activities they came to love!
Isabelle wants you to know that you saved her life. In fact, she is now looking for ways to give back, to contribute to the lives of other women in her shoes. “I don’t know how yet, but I will help,” she says. “Please give so that other families still have hope!”
* Real names and some details in this story have been altered to protect Isabelle’s identity.