Rescued by Toronto Police from an abusive relationship, Ambreen Akbar is now singing the praises of the Service and Victims Service Toronto (VST), where she is a case counsellor.
Two decades ago, she was forced into a marriage with a much-older man. She arrived in Canada as a teenage bride.
Akbar said her husband was extremely abusive to her and their three children.
“The abuse included all kinds of inhuman acts,” she said at the 10th annual Chief’s Gala in support of VST on November 23 at the Beanfield Centre. “I was young and alone, with no support. I had no knowledge about the help available and zero information about my rights. I lived in fear of losing my life and my children’s lives. I was also misguided to fear authorities, especially the police, Children’s Aid Society and social workers.”
Akbar said that all changed when 51 Division officers came to her rescue and directed her to VST.
“The officers were so respectful, polite and resourceful,” she recalled.
Akbar is very grateful for the support she received from VST.
“I would never forget how the crisis counsellor supported me immensely,” she said. “This crisis counsellor explained that it’s not OK to live in fear and that it is not OK to be abused. She did safety planning and provided me with key information about different resources available. Again, I was surprised that this fellow Canadian, who doesn’t share any cultural or religious traits with me, would believe me. It was liberating to know that someone cared.
“I feel as if I was in a nightmare and that that conversation with this crisis counsellor opened that door of options for me that led to my freedom. I could finally breathe and think without fearing a beating. At last, I wasn’t alone. From there on, I went on to raise three beautiful children as a single parent and achieve my lifelong dream of completing my education and helping other victims out there.”
Akbar has completed her undergraduate degree and a Master’s in Social Work and is planning to pursue a PhD.
The Chief’s gala is the major fundraiser for VST that provides crisis response, trauma and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragic circumstances 24 hours daily.
The event raised a record $301,533.54 last year for the organization that depends on corporate and private donations to do its work helping victims of crime and sudden tragedy. That was almost $40,000 more than the previous highest amount raised.
With 26 full-time equivalent staff and 200 community volunteers, VST provides services in over 35 languages.
“I am here alive because of Victim Services,” Akbar added. “As a case counsellor, I am passionately helping other victims of domestic violence rebuild their lives. But we cannot do it without your support…Let’s save one life at a time.”
Chief Mark Saunders and his wife, Stacey, made their first public appearance since he underwent a kidney transplant last month.
“When we joined law enforcement, it was to make a difference in the lives of people we made contact with,” he said. “We thought we could do it alone. But we see Victim Services and we understand it truly takes partnerships to make the success of having great and viable communities.”
Last year, VST served almost 20,000 clients.
“When we talk about Victim Services, we have to understand the numbers and the capacity and why you donate and why sponsorships are so important,” Saunders noted. “They do their work under the radar. There is no bravado in helping people. We do it because it is the right thing to do. Helping people in their time of need and making them well is what the real work of Victim Services is. I have seen that first-hand over and over again which is why I made this my first appearance.”
Supervised by crisis counsellors, VST volunteers provide crisis intervention and referrals, assist on the telephone or attend the scene as requested and also aid with fundraising and other community outreach initiatives.