When Maria first came to Canada from Chile, she didn’t expect that she’d be sleeping in a furnace room on a mattress picked up from the garbage. A single mother in her early twenties, Maria saw Canada as a safe place to build a better future for herself and her son. She arrived in Toronto stricken by the cold January weather, with only the phone number of a friend-of-a-friend in her hand.
“So I left the airport, asked for a ride from somebody who I didn’t know, and got to the place. And I started my life in Canada,” Maria says.
Maria’s acquaintance promised her a job as a live-in housekeeper. She quickly realized that her acquaintance never intended to pay her for her work. Even though she was working for free and in poor living conditions—sleeping in the furnace room on a dirty mattress—Maria was afraid to leave the arrangement. Since she didn’t know anybody else in Canada, having a roof over her head and food in her stomach made her feel safe.
Maria’s tipping point came 2 years later when she was finally able to bring her son and her mother from Chile to Canada. One afternoon, her young son answered the household telephone, which he was not allowed to do. Maria’s acquaintance, enraged, kicked the three of them out of the house. She never paid Maria a cent for her 2 years of domestic work.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I went to church. I went to the priest, and I cried. I ended up with my son and Mom living in a shelter for almost a week and a half.”
In time, Maria was able to find an apartment for herself and her family. She worked multiple cleaning and factory jobs while her Mother cared for her son. As the years passed, Maria’s hard work allowed her more financial security and she has been able to bring most of her family from Chile to Canada.
Despite her initial poor experience with care work, Maria now works as a caregiver for a woman with multiple sclerosis. While she doesn’t consider herself a “caregiver with a title,” Maria is proud of the work she does. She and the woman she cares for had difficulty getting along at first, but Maria’s compassion and warmth have allowed the relationship to grow: “Over time she started changing,” said Maria, “There’s a lot of people that say that she changed because of me. Now, we hug, we kiss.”
Maria views her work as a caregiver not like a job, but as a relationship between two people. “For me,” she says, “A caregiver is two kinds of person. You can be a caregiver because of a title, and do it because you need money…but I think you got to have heart to do it. You don’t need a title.”
A lot has changed for Maria since she first arrived in Canada from Chile. She is surrounded by family and has built community. Most importantly, she feels valued for her work. She feels fulfilled and enjoys the intimate relationship that can grow between care workers and recipients.
Even if she were to win the lottery—Maria says she would never stop providing care to the woman she works for. “She’s the one who lifts me up. My friendship, my feeling for her…[it’s]…more than just the money.”
Percent of immigrants stated that finding an adequate job was the most difficult thing they had to deal with since arriving in Canada (2006)
Percent of immigrant females belong to a visible minority group (2011)
Percent of the recent female immigrant population live in low-income households compared to 14.6% of the Canadian-born female population (2011)