Suzanne Reisler Litwin: The 2020 Spring Series — The More You Know

Welcome to The 2020 Spring Series – The More You Know. In this series you will read about people and situations which will broaden your horizons. We will enter into places and spaces which are not frequented paths. Certainly, what you will come to appreciate is the value of knowing more. This more might be the something which may change your life for the better. Enjoy the journey!

Part 3 – There’s NO Justification for Violence

I’m sure you know someone who has been physically, psychologically, and/or sexually abused. I know a few people who have suffered abuse from their spouses, girlfriends or boyfriends. I have witnessed bruises, emotional trauma, and heart pounding fear. I have also witnessed the final stages of abuse and the end of destructive relationships. I have seen people rise from those battle grounds and find their permanent soil of happiness. I have seen the rebuild and the sunshine re-enter their lives.

Some people have family and friends to help them through these horrible experiences. But… What happens if you are new to Canada, you don’t speak the languages and you don’t have family or friends to help you? If you are in an abusive situation, where do you go for help? Who do you turn to? Especially now, where do you go when there is no place to go?

There is a real Greek Goddess out there and her name is Melpa Kamateros. Melpa is one of the founders of the Shield of Athena. The Shield of Athena is an organization which has three points of service: Athena’s House, which is an emergency shelter for victims of conjugal violence and two external service centers in Montreal and Laval.

Melpa is the Executive Director who oversees the network of the Shield of Athena. She specifically does the outreach for funding, media, works as the official rep for the government and develops the center’s programming. Sounds to me as though Melpa does everything and anything to make this amazing organization function and grow.

I asked Melpa how she got into this line of work. She said, “In the 1990s there was a great wave of stories about women who experienced violence. My friends and I each knew someone who had been caught up in the cycle of violence. Sadly, one of our original members had a personal tragedy as her relative and her children were murdered. This really affected me. While, finishing my 2nd degree at Concordia, I started a community awareness project with a group of women.

We discussed community outreach within our Greek community. As strong Greek women with a shield and strength, we did many sessions on conjugal violence so as to inform our community. A lot of people came out hear us speak about conjugal violence. While doing these sessions we noticed that many women didn’t realize they were victims of abuse.

As a group of 15 volunteer women, it was a very grass roots movement.

As I completed my stage with Auberge Shalom and the needs within our community became greater, we asked the West Island Woman’s shelter to train this volunteer group of women. As a grass roots organization we operated with revenues from donations and events but eventually our programs started to get funding by the Federal Government. We produced our model of community outreach with sessions, videos, pamphlets, then 2 centers in Montreal and Laval and 14 years later our own shelter. Our shelter is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual.”

Speaking to Melpa opened up my mind and my heart to her quest. She is so passionate about what she does. I asked her, What is the greatest part of what you do? What do you love?

Melpa responded, “It’s about connecting with others. The results give me joy. I’m amazed by the people. Some situations stick out in my mind. One day police officers deposited a woman and her 4 year old child in front of the Montreal center. She came from a village somewhere in Quebec. No one spoke her language. Her suitcase had her name written on it in chalk. We brought her into the shelter. We figured out what language she spoke and started to communicate with her. I will never forget that image.

Another woman was a professional in her country. Here she wasn’t able to work or communicate in our languages. She saw our outreach video. She reached out to our caseworker. 15 years later, this woman is flying and she’s a success. She’s done well. This is what keeps me here. The creativity of how we do what we do.

It’s very gratifying to hear the success stories. It is so empowering for me to see other women coming out of violent situations and overcoming their obstacles. So many women don’t have this power and when they get it, it makes me feel very gratifying.”

On the other side of this coin, I asked Melpa, What is the hardest part of what you do?

“Seriously, is trying to keep it all together and making things roll. I never know what I’m going to find when I walk into the office. I never know. I don’t know what to expect and that makes me anxious.”

I asked her, What have you learned about yourself through your journey?

“Patience and tenacity. Funding is so difficult. I never expected myself to be so patient and tenacious.”

I mentioned to Melpa that I know people who have suffered violent abuse. Sometimes I feel lost in how I can help. I asked her, What can others do to help your organization?

She stated, “Do not minimalize the violence. Recognizing the violence and treating it as what it is. If you reinforce the Moms, they will create stronger children. We have to build the Mothers and they will create strong children who will break the cycle.”

Our current time is a very difficult time for people who are in violent situations. I asked Melpa specifically, What do you want people to know?

She said “If you are a victim of violence reach out and if you know a person who has experienced violence please listen to them. The biggest age group in the shelter and at the external centers is 25-45 years old. Few women over 60. The violence is still being perpetuated by young people.”

At this point in our conversation, I felt so lucky to have spoken to Melpa. I wished I had known her years ago. I would have reached out to her to help some people I know. I also felt a kindred spirit when speaking with her. She has a relaxed tone in her very knowledgeable, confident voice.

I asked Melpa if she wanted to share anything else. This is what she said,

“The point of the organization is to empower women so they can become autonomous. To help women get out of violent situations and become able to care for themselves and their children. We offer secure housing. Our emergency shelter houses women for 1-3 months. The second step is to help women with autonomy. Currently, we are building a Second Step Resource center where women can stay 1 - 2 years. We want to give women the time and skills they need to become autonomous.”

If you are experiencing violence in your personal life or intimate relationships please reach out to:

  • Shield of Athena – Family Services
  • 514-274-8117 – Montreal Center
  • 450-688-6584 – Laval Center
  • 1-800-363-9010 - SOS
  • 911- Police

Many women do not recognize that they are in a violent relationship. It’s about power and control. The abuse can take many forms, as in economic, psychological, sexual, as it is not always physical. It is insidious, it creeps up on you.

Remember… There is no justification for violence!

For men and other people who are experiencing violence, please reach out to:

  • SAC – 514-384-6296
  • PRO-GAM - 514-270-8462

Don’t be frightened, there is no shame in asking for help.

— Suzanne Reisler Litwin

— AB

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