A new organization set up to address domestic violence in Calgary's African community is already reaching capacity just one month after launching.
Ruth's House works with more than 50 groups and organizations in the city to provide safe houses, counselling, therapy, outreach and education — all tailored to African cultures, faiths and languages.
It's hoped a culturally aware point of contact will make the process of seeking help and supports much less daunting for African women and families.
"Ruth's House is a safe haven for African families in our communities," said Dee Adekugbe, executive director of the organization.
"We understand our own culture, our traditions, our beliefs and we understand ourselves, so who better to offer supports to the community than those that live in the community," said Adekugbe.
Adekugbe calls domestic violence in her community a pandemic. It's also a taboo subject that people can find difficult to talk about. She says specialized help can allow women to overcome some of the barriers to access that can ultimately guide them out of a dangerous situation and toward a new life.
"We've already reached capacity and we've only been open for a month. And that tells you the need in the community," she said.
The organization runs two shelters, a term Adekugbe prefers to avoid. One house is located in the north of the city, another in the south.
"We call them community homes because in our community we want to feel like we're still at home. We can cook and do the everyday things we were doing before. They're just regular homes," she said.
Women and families can spend time and regain control of their lives while receiving support and outreach.
"It's all funded by the community. It's for the community by the community because everyone believes in this and we're working together as a village," said Adekugbe, who is also a pastor at the Genesis Life Centre Church in Calgary.
"My goal is to make domestic violence a thing of the past," said Adekugbe. "I think it's possible when all the community members are working together with external agencies, with the authorities and those that have the same desire as us."
The organization works with more than 50 community and faith groups and other domestic violence agencies in Calgary, taking referrals from many of those groups who can direct African women to Ruth's House for more specialized help.
"We come from a background where abuse is more or less tolerated and where it's a cultural norm to be beaten or slapped by your husband as a means of correcting you," said Eyitope Roberts, chair of Ruth's House board of directors.
'It's not acceptable'
Roberts says African women are often told by friends and family to stay in abusive relationships rather than leave.
"It's not acceptable. We're not in Africa, and even in Africa people are beginning to speak up about domestic violence and why it should not be tolerated," said Roberts.
Roberts says so far Ruth's House has helped 20 families out of bad situations.
The next goal for the organization is applying for funding and more financial support to expand and open more shelters.
That includes immigrant-focused organizations, others who are passionate about women and domestic violence, and eventually provincial and federal governments.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.