Student Profile: Frehiwet Kebedom
By Yvonne Voulgaris
Strong. Resilient. Smart.
This description barely skims the surface of Frehiwet Kebedom, a student in the Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) Program at PTP Adult Learning and Employment Programs.
Frehiwet (or Frey, as classmates and staff affectionately call her) arrived in Canada from Eritrea with her son, Bruke, (now three and a half years old) in August 2017, and she has been building an impressive repertoire of accomplishments ever since.
She spent her first two weeks in Toronto learning how to navigate the TTC. She went as far as she could in each direction so that she would not be a slave to fear when needing to get somewhere.
In less than fifteen months, Frey obtained her Food Handler, Smart Serve, and WHMIS certifications. Additionally, she recently passed her G1 driving test.
When asked what her motivation was in coming to Canada, she takes a thoughtful moment before responding:
“You know, there’s an Eritrean Proverb: The woman is the light of the house. This means if the woman is educated, she’ll give a better life to her children.”
When Frey and Bruke arrived as refugees, they stayed in a family residence shelter for women and children. Coming to Canada was an exceptionally difficult decision for her as it meant leaving her other two children with family in Eritrea. Being separated from them is the biggest challenge she faces here, but she sees how Bruke is excelling and growing, and she knows she has done the right thing. “He is always happy, always smiling. When we get on the bus, it’s often quiet and everyone looks sad or tired. He starts talking to people and the mood changes so everyone starts smiling.” She can’t speak about him without a full grin herself.
Through the family residence shelter, she connected to her initial certification programs. The shelter also provided her with relevant, useful information about where and how to find free clothing and food, and how to access public services (i.e. free passes through the Toronto Public Library for local attractions, swimming classes, etc.).
She also made her first friends there.
Riding the subway one day, she ran into a couple of these friends and asked where they were going. They were on their way to school, a place called PTP. Curious by nature, Frehiwet decided to check out PTP herself.
She had Bruke with her the first time she came to PTP, so she was not able to write the assessment. This drove Frey to push for her childcare subsidy. Within 3 weeks of her initial visit, her daycare was set up, and she came and wrote an assessment. Initially she had no desire to pursue education, but she enrolled in the LBS program to determine if it was a better fit for her than she believed it would be.
Frey worked for many years and was skeptical that further education was the right step for her. She had been out of school nearly 15 years. Since graduating high school with an accounting diploma, she worked for United Nations (UNMEE), QDVC during the building of Dahlak Island, and the US Embassy. She was at the embassy for 7 years and worked in a variety of positions there until she came to Canada. She took advantage of embassy’s monthly, online certification courses. Frey also applied for new positions within the embassy, regardless of whether others more qualified were applying. With this fearlessness, she succeeded in every position she worked in, and it is this same mental fortitude that continues to make her successful today.
Once Frey started at PTP, her preconceived notions of being done with education no longer held true. She says, “When I first came here, I said no. It’s been a long time for me since I was in school, so I don’t want to go back to school. But when I came here, every day I learned something new. Just because I started here, I learned more. That’s why we all have to just start doing something.”
She quotes another Eritrean proverb: When you put your hand in the sea, you either get wet or you get a fish. She explains this to mean that, “It is important to do something, even if you’re not sure that it’s the right thing, it’s something.”
Frehiwet’s ultimate passion is to help people, especially women and children. Advocacy is close to her heart, and she wants to continue to grow her education and knowledge so she can focus on this innate desire. “First I must help myself so I can help others.”
While in the shelter, she would often accompany other Eritrean women to various appointments and translate for them. Upon discovering this, her case worker suggested that Frey do an interpretation course through MCIS. Because PTP is flexible and works with students and their ever-changing lives, Frey was able to readjust her schedule and simultaneously enrolled in the 6 week interpreter course. She successfully completed this course, and is registering with the province to pursue this as an income source.
Still, there are many things Frehiwet wants to do, and one of the courses she is taking at PTP is Pre-Entrance Prep with Lucy. She says, “I have several goals. This week, one thing I learned in Lucy’s class is to set up realistic goals—she asked us to write a thesis sentence about our goals.”
Ultimately, Frey thinks that social work or law enforcement are best suited to her. “I want to help people and make a difference, but first I must help myself through education so I can do that.”
With her big heart and good intentions, there is no doubt that she will continue to succeed in whatever pursuits she chooses to follow.
“My vision is that one day, whatever I learn here, I can transfer it and help other women—even back home.”