Marcel spent three long solitary nights in a downtown Toronto park when he first came to Canada. He remembers assuming that this would simply be what life was like in his new country. He recalls gazing at the stars overhead–their beauty and constancy in contrast to his own uncertainty.
Back in Cameroon, Marcel’s brother had spoken out against the dictatorship and organized rallies. Marcel had helped hand out pamphlets, so the government threatened both their lives. His brother negotiated a chance for him to come to Canada alone.
Marcel arrived in Toronto with only $100. He was only 17 and spoke no English. Several hours after hugging his family goodbye, he found himself laying on a park bench over 6,000 miles away.
Marcel discovered a Salvation Army adult shelter and they directed him to Covenant House, because he was young. When he arrived here, he was surprised at how welcoming the staff were and how many programs he could use.
While Marcel stayed in our crisis shelter, he attended our onsite school and his English rapidly improved. We helped him with his immigration claim and connected him with a volunteer opportunity at a church he was interested in. Marcel’s faith has been a source of strength for him and the church community gave him a new family.
During his stay at Covenant House, Marcel appreciated meeting the other young people in the house. He had never met people of so many cultures and backgrounds. “Here, I learned respect for others, for everyone. You must respect your peers, no matter what their orientation or religious background. No matter what you look like on the outside,” he explains. “For everyone who stays here, it’s not about how we start. It’s all about our future.”
Our basketball program gave Marcel a chance to keep his ties with us after he moved into his own place. He would travel a long distance to shoot hoops on Thursday nights with the staff and youth here. Two of our youth workers who play basketball with the youth were especially important to him. “Oneill is a big brother. Everything he says comes from a good place—nothing but love. Karen is always cracking jokes. She’s a humble person. I like her,” he says.
“When I see what other people go through, I feel lucky,” Marcel shares. “I give big thanks to Covenant House. The programs you run, the way you guys make sure kids get back on their feet, stay on track and get independent— it’s good.”
Today, Marcel works as a bilingual call centre representative at a mutual funds company. Along with work, church and basketball, he has a keen interest in photography and design. He promises that, for him, the best is yet to come.