Marco’s dad was never a father to him. His dad lived in Toronto, while Marco grew up in Ecuador, immersed in the love of a large, close knit family–his mother, grandmother and three siblings. But at 18, he reluctantly left them to join his father in Canada in pursuit of a better life.
Marco’s father, a Canadian citizen, sponsored his immigration. After a nerve-wracking first-ever, airplane trip, Marco and his father were reunited in Toronto with the chance to finally get to know one another as father and son. But when he discovered that Marco was gay, he gave him $60 and told him that the next time he saw him, he would kill him. He was rejected and left on his own in a strange country, a world away from the family that adored him.
Marco found manual work and landed an apartment, but when he was laid off, he lost his place shortly afterwards. A friend told him about Covenant House.
Marco spoke little English, so at first communication was challenging. But he was soon paired with one of our Spanish-speaking youth workers, Natacha. She helped him to learn English. He was also connected with ESL classes in the community.
A couple of months after he arrived, Marco’s beloved grandmother passed away. He was overcome with grief and homesickness for his family back in Ecuador. He could not stop his tears and spent a few long days crying. During that period, Natacha and other youth workers checked on him every hour to see how he was doing. They nurtured him through his mourning with care and compassion.
“Covenant House basically brought me back to life,” Marco shared. “Coming from another country, I never would have expected this much support.”
With a dishwashing job and the desire to make it on his own, Marco set out again and secured a new place to stay. His roommate told Marco that he hated gays and asked him whether he indeed was gay. Marco ignored him and kept to himself. A couple of days later, when he was sleeping soundly, his roommate made sure a blanket was tucked around him so he could not easily move, took a lighter and set his bedding and curtains on fire. His two other roommates witnessed everything, roused Marco from sleep and shock, and helped him escape from the blaze with no serious physical injuries.
After a trip to the hospital, Marco, was loaded into the back of a squad car and taken by a police station. “Because of police in my country, I was very scared.” At the station, a Spanish-speaking officer gently explained that they only wanted information about the crime committed against him and that they would help Marco in any way they could. The two men spoke for over an hour. Marco was relieved and touched by the kindness of the officer.
Marco returned to the safety of Covenant House. Our youth worker Fred later joined Marco through his emotionally draining court proceedings to testify against the other youth. He was found guilty.
This time, Marco was determined to gain all he could from our programs to build a future. He stayed at our longer-term residence, Rights of Passage, and got accepted into our culinary arts training program, Cooking for Life. He excelled in the program and was inspired to pursue the Culinary Management Diploma at Humber College.
Today, Marco is settled into his own apartment that our housing workers helped him find and he will graduate from college in a couple of weeks.
“Thank God I found Covenant House. They gave me a roof, three meals a day, doctors, but also people who will help you,” says Marco. He speaks fondly of numerous staff who have been mentors to him. “Covenant House is my family. One day, I will give back by either working here or donating when I have money.”
At a recent Covenant House event, Marco volunteered to share his story as a former resident. One of our supporters in attendance who owns some restaurants downtown, was so impressed by him that he immediately offered him a full-time job as a line cook.
Marco is also looking forward to the Pan Am Games this summer, because he was selected to be a volunteer at the athletes’ village to interpret for Spanish-speaking athletes.
Marco aims to sponsor his mother and his two younger siblings to join him in Canada. They are in touch every day online, but it has been some time now since they’ve been together. “I told my mother, you’ve worked too hard your whole life. When you come to Canada, it’s your time to relax and I will take care of you now.”