Farewell to Catherine Gmah

I'll remember Catherine's smile the most. She was often quiet, but her smile was big and bright.

She flashed that beautiful smile many times after arriving in Canada four years ago: the first taste of sweet, cold ice cream; the first time she decorated a Christmas tree and the colourful, twinkling lights came on; her first doll and some stuffed animals to decorate her very own bedroom; receiving a new shawl which she wrapped around herself with real fashion flair; accepting compliments on her latest hairstyle or new shoes; dancing joyfully with the Making Africa Proud troupe; getting money unexpectedly to add minutes to her mobile phone account; planning to attend her high school graduation in June 2020.

There probably wasn't a lot for Catherine to smile about in the refugee camp where she was born in the Ivory Coast in 2000. Life was miserable. Home was a leaky shack without electricity or running water. Food was scrounged daily; many times, there wasn't any. The camp had too many desperate and violent people. Medical care was non-existent. She attended school for a couple years, but it closed, which left an intelligent girl lacking in literacy and numeracy. It was the only life she had ever known, and when she got to Canada and people kept asking about her goals, she had none at first. It had seemed pointless to dream in the refugee camp.

In Canada Catherine found a warm welcome, shelter, safety, plenty of food, nice clothes, new friends, fun times. She could go to school now and get medical attention. She started thinking about becoming a nurse or a hair stylist some day, especially after the liver transplant gave her a new lease on life. She was studying to take the test to become a Canadian citizen.

The team sponsoring the refugee family admired how she honoured her parents by always helping them with household chores and errands. We were proud of how she stoically accepted all the medical procedures and the endless medications. We had such high hopes for this lovely girl who deserved a long, productive life after all she had been through.

News of her death made me cry. It was like losing a member of my extended family. It seemed so sad and so unfair for Catherine, for her parents who had brought her to Canada for a better life, and to the team who had worked so hard to raise money, provide support and friendship, and help the family adjust to life in Canada. While upset that her life was cut short, we are grateful that she had a few years of happiness in Canada. She was baptized here, and we are sure that she has been promoted to eternal glory.

A beautiful spirit has moved on, and Catherine's smile will forever light up the heavens. Our prayers continue for her grieving family now that she is in a place where there is no sorrow.

--by Ann Deveau

Please note:
A memorial service and reception will be held at Christ Church (Parish) Church after the state of emergency has been lifted and public gatherings can resume.


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