Each day on her way to work, Elena Lalabekova passes by the cemetery where her father is buried. She takes a minute to thank him for bringing her to Canada. “He said: ‘I did it; I brought you here.’ He loved this country.”
Elena and her family arrived in 2005 after tumultuous years following their flight from Azerbaijan. She and her parents left their war-torn country in 1988 for Armenia and later moved on to Turkmenistan. “We lived there in hopes of finding a home,” she explains. But their situation was unstable and she wasn’t even allowed to enter college. “My father wrote letters, one after another after another, to get documents so I could go to school.” Her parents worked hard so she could study office management and bookkeeping at a private college. Adept at English, Elena worked at an import/export company and taught English in a daycare.
Eventually the government encouraged refugees to leave, and several families came to Halifax. Elena was now married with an 18 month-old daughter, and pregnant with another. “It was a new culture, new people and no extended family. I had to give up a lot, but it was better for me and for my kids.”
Her family and her parents all settled in the same building, in two apartments. “I am so grateful to ISANS. They were a huge support.” Elena’s husband, Gennady, did not speak English and found the first days difficult. He and Elena’s parents studied English at ISANS. “Language is a huge challenge, as is simply getting around and finding your way.” Elena found the culture different, but not in a negative way. “It is better here, different values, and friendlier.” Gennady wasn’t content as quickly, but after visits of a week in Toronto, and later three weeks in his homeland, he realized Halifax would work out. He began to paint houses, work that he continues today.
In 2007 ISANS invited Elena to an information session with the Royal Bank of Canada, soon leading to a job as a Customer Service Representative. After working in several branches, she is now happily ensconced in Burnside. She was asked to join an employees’ resource group, called RBC Mosaic, which helps foster an inclusive culture within the bank community.
Two years ago the family purchased a home, about the same time they became Canadian citizens. “Now we celebrate both!” Elena’s mother lives nearby and helps out with daughters, Elona, now 10, and Victoria, eight. That assistance became particularly important because of the sudden death of Elena’s father in 2012. The family enjoys Russian movies and books, allowing the children to maintain their language. Elena is a member of the Russian Society of the Maritimes and receives support for events from RBC. She is also happy to help new arrivals settle in Canada.
Elena is thankful for her life here. She says she doesn’t understand families that don’t get along as she has family back home she never sees. “They should appreciate what they have.”