Khitam & Angy’s Story
Being a single mother in a new country is nowhere near easy. But at UGM, Khitam and her daughter Angy found people who genuinely care, and since then, they have grown stronger together as a family.
After separating from her husband, Khitam found herself stuck in Beirut with her 13-month old daughter, Angy. Due to border crossing laws, Khitam was unable to return home to Syria without forfeiting custody of Angy to her ex-husband—and had no choice but to stay in Beirut. Being a single mother in a new place is always challenging, but Khitam’s hardships were worsened by the stigma she carried as a divorcee. “In Middle Eastern societies, divorced women are given no respect. Sometimes, rights are taken away from her,” she explains. “My friends started ignoring me. People didn’t want a relationship with me. I was not welcomed, and it was very isolating.”
“Our life in Beirut was very hard,” Khitam shares. “Because I had no family or help, I worked two full-time jobs. Through those years, I missed being a mom and watching Angy grow up.” During Khitam’s long days, Angy stayed in the care of other families, which impacted her emotional development. “Each family dealt with Angy differently,” Khitam explains. “She experienced physical abuse from the children, and psychological abuse from the parents. She was scared—but I didn’t know any of this until she started talking.”
Once the Syrian civil war began, moving home became even more out of the question, and the United Nations helped Khitam and Angy move to Canada as refugees in 2017. Here, Khitam enrolled in school, and started looking for after school care for Angy. With many programs full, she sought the advice of another single mom in their building, who has been connected to UGM for years. “She really welcomed me and said, ‘My daughter really enjoys UGM. They’re a good fit for your daughter,’” Khitam explains. “Angy was accepted into Eastsiders, UGM’s afterschool program, and I felt so relieved to have child support.”
Since then, Khitam has witnessed how the heartfelt love of UGM’s staff has helped her daughter grow through her formative years. “How they take care of the children is really amazing. They care for their emotional, psychological, and physical needs,” she begins. “They’ve helped Angy become more organized, and listen and understand better. They help with homework; her reading has improved, and she really enjoys the activities. She’s really close to all the staff, and loves them. She says, ‘They always makes me laugh!’”
Beyond that, Khitam is so grateful for how Angy’s Eastsiders leaders have also been a constant support to her. “The staff aren’t limited to relationships with the children; they try to understand their home environment, and help families,” she says. This is especially impactful, as being a newcomer can be sometimes isolating. “When you’re alone in a new country, you don’t just need financial support. Sometimes you just need a friend,” she shares. “UGM’s staff are really important in this way. They notice when I’m not okay, and ask if I want to talk. They give me encouragement to work on myself, and show they’re really happy for me.”
Since moving to Canada, Khitam and Angy have grown stronger together as a family. Here, Khitam feels accepted, respected, and supported as a single mother. For all the care she’s received, she’s also generously given back in the Downtown Eastside, teaching Arabic English to Syrian refugees and Canadians. Today, they are moving towards a bright future. Khitam is completing school for bookkeeping and accounting and working at a music academy, and Angy is now in high school, joining UGM’s youth programs! “Angy and I are continuing our relationship with UGM,” she shares. “They give our family a sense of safety and care, and are an angelic team. I trust them, and I’m so happy to have them around.”