Church forms group to support foreign caregivers

THORNHILL, ON—While the federal government is taking strides to provide greater legal protection to the thousands of foreign caregivers living in Canada, a church in Toronto's suburbs has been quietly reaching into the heart of the matter.

"Sometimes [caregivers] can be an invisible part of our society," says Gloria Stafford, coordinator for The Caregivers Group at Thornhill Baptist Church, "and they work so hard to help our society."

"Hundreds of people come to Canada each year to become live-in care-givers for children and the elderly."

Many caregivers feel isolated in Canadian society, says Stafford. Most send their money back home to support families they have left behind—often including husbands and children.
For the past year, The Caregivers Group has offered social activities, as well as workshops on topics such as burnout and stress, communication, employer/employee relations and finances. Some have also been meeting for a Sunday Bible study.

Stafford, who also directs the church's Life Transition Counseling ministry, offers counselling to caregivers who are coping with the challenges of being separated from family members.
"Many don't have a support system here," she says, "They work really long hours—it's ridiculous the number of hours they work."

Pastor Paul Gibbons says The Caregivers Group formed after the church realized the need of the caregivers in their own congregation. While some have good employers, others face difficult working conditions or are exploited due to ignorance of labour law.

"We wanted to provide a place where they would come to meet one another," he says. "And it's just taken off. They invite their friends. They invite people off the bus and on the street."

Gibbons says one nanny, recently from Hong Kong, heard about the group in her home church. "There are great connections overseas," Gibbons says. "Some of these caregivers have only been in the country for a week or so, and yet they've heard about our church."

"I'm so blessed to be in this group," says caregiver Beverly Bacomo.

"The warmth, love and concern with each other is so amazing. We learn to get through our difficulties at work, problems back home, about our rights here in Canada and also how to see our future plans from God's perspective.

"Prayer is definitely the centre of our every fellowship. Lifting to God our concerns and experiencing His answers to them is really awesome."

Jez Vicente Homecgoy says her husband feels comforted knowing she's part of a Christian support group.

"For me our group plays a very important part in my life," she says. "I can say it is my family. I always long for Sundays when I can laugh to my fullest and be comforted too when I'm sad and lonely… It just gives me happiness and joy. We pray, comfort and show our concern to each other, and that somehow helps to lessen our strongest enemy—homesickness."

"We're seeking to include them in our church family," says Gibbons. "God has blessed our church through them. They have enriched our church and added a whole new dimension to our fellowship. They've been a real blessing to us."

Stafford adds, "We want them to know that they are recognized, valued and supported members of Canadian society—and not invisible to us."

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