What makes you leave your country, a career you love and everyone you know?
Iraqi actor and director Khawla Tawfiq, was famous for TV and films. But life provided a twist and turned into a nightmare. Twenty-one members of her family were killed; work dried up as the country fell into chaos; and bandits kidnapped her then-12-year-old son. Extortionists assumed that celebrities like Khawla and her husband, a respected theatre director, had money. The Tawfiqs sold their last assets to get their son back; escaped into Syria; and applied for refugee status in Canada. Her husband was murdered before they came to London in 2009.
The first years here in London were lonely. There was not a lot of work for a media expert over 50 with little English.
Wanting to be useful, Khawla volunteered at the Cross Cultural Learner Centre (CCLC), who referred her to the London InterCommunity Health Centre's Women of the World program, where newcomer immigrant women who feel isolated come together to support each other.
Through the Health Centre's Seniors Wrap Around program she was connected to a volunter who helped her learn English. "When they sent these volunteers to meet me," says Khawla, "I thought, 'I have a family here.' I'm going to a drama festival in Egypt next month - and the first thing I'm going to tell them about is this wonderful program that makes newcomers welcome."
She was surprised at the ethnic diversity here, "and more surprised that people who are different care about each other. Canada has succeeded at this extraordinary thing. "
The support encouraged her to get more involved. She recently received awards from for her substantial volunteer contributions: 1,200 hours at CCLC one year, and 700 hours at LIHC. She also organized a play about immigration with Arabic students at Westminster High School, with a multi-ethnic back-stage crew from LIHC's Women of The World. She visits patients at three London hospitals.
"After the hardships I've had, it makes me happy to help others who are having a hard time."
She recently took Canadian citizenship.