Located in northwest Calgary, Maskan, which means ‘a soothing place’ in Urdu, goes beyond a refuge that offers basic aid. Primarily committed to newcomers, they also help anybody who requires their services. It offers its residents new opportunities and unique services to help rebuild their lives in a family-like environment.
''We help them [with] finding jobs, learning English and other skills they need to move on and become stabilized Canadians,'' Umair Chattah explains, the media manager of Maskan.
Aneela Azeem, the president of the Canadian Pakistani Support Group, says Maskan also provides educational workshops about mental health, domestic violence, gender equality, the empowerment of women, and anger management.
For the future of Maskan, they want to expand the number of transitional houses in Calgary. According to Aneela, they receive a lot of calls and requests, but currently, they can only shelter 10 people due to the current lack of funds and investments through donations via contribution by Pakistani business owners.
Azeem knows it’s difficult for women to leave abusive relationships. But she says it’s the only way to move forward.
''For those women who are afraid of leaving their abusive relationship — it is not going to solve anything. Staying in the same situation for the sake of the children is not going to solve the problem. You're harming the children more than protecting them. You're just leaving them a broken home,” says Azeem.
She also wants to remind women that if they ever need help, the Maskan is always open to make something for them.
“So, they should be strong enough to take a step and get out of the comfort zone to discuss the problem, get counselling and contact us at any time. We are here to guide and assist them. We just wish that in the future we help these people so much that there's no need of a transitional home anymore,” says Azeem.
Canada is known worldwide for its warming acceptance of immigrants. They come from all over the world in search of a better quality of life and for what is known as the ‘Canadian dream.'
According to data from the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, 21.9 per cent of the population reported they were or had been an immigrant or permanent resident in Canada. And the number of immigrants keeps growing.
Although, what many family members don't expect is to suffer from domestic violence in a completely different country where, very commonly, they don't speak the language and don't have someone to support them.
Because of the many distinct difficulties that immigrants have to go through, many don't raise their voices to report what Chattah considers an epidemic among all Canadians.
Calgary Police indicate that nearly half of the city’s homicides in 2019 were the result of domestic violence. On average, they receive two calls every hour related to domestic violence, according to the Calgary Herald.
Chattah, the media manager of the Maskan transitional house, says this problem is far from gathering enough attention.
“It goes right under the carpet. People know it's there, but no one talks about it. I think it's an epidemic problem. Domestic abuse is more epidemic than breast cancer and depression, which should not come as a shock because a lot of people do not talk about it. They think it is 'OK' and it is going to [go] away, but it won't unless you talk about it and find a solution to end it,” says Chattah.
Chattah also emphasizes that the problem is not restricted to a religious group or ethnicity. From Asia to South America and Europe, it affects people from all over the world.
Although this problem is reflected in so many people, they don't talk about it because of cultural norms.
“It's not something that the Canadian society sees as a problem at the moment. It's something that is specifically related to a certain group, [the immigrants], which is not true. I've come across people [from] different countries and religions, who all tell me the same thing, that they have faced domestic violence. And we're not just talking about women, [we’re talking about] men and children also,” says Chattah.
Azeem and everyone who works at the Maskan continues to work diligently in hopes of one day eradicating domestic abuse across Calgary.
- By Julia Andrade and Daniel Gonzalez