Zane* was born in Rwanda. When he was two, his father was killed in the Rwandan genocide and the rest of his family fled to a refugee camp in the Congo. After the genocide ended, Zane and his surviving family members took the month-long journey back to Rwanda. Zane was extremely sick at this time and nearly died from malaria. But he recovered and his family stayed in Rwanda for several years, living in constant fear in the aftermath of the genocide.
Zane has early memories of having his house searched for weapons and hearing about ongoing attacks. Even at a young age, he could sense how afraid people were. He remembers being told they were not allowed to leave the compound where they were living. The terror and trauma of the Rwandan genocide defined Zane’s early childhood.
At 6 years old, Zane’s mother brought him and his two sisters to Canada and they received refugee status. They lived at the YMCA for six months before being placed in low-income housing in Ottawa. Poverty, drugs, violence, absent fathers, and crime were all common in the neighbourhood where Zane grew up.
When he came to Ottawa, Zane started attending a French elementary school. He did well academically and got along well with the other students. When Zane was in Grade 6, his mother re-married and his new stepfather was a heavy smoker. Zane soon started to steal and smoke what was left of the cigarettes lying around the house.
In Grade 7, Zane started attending a middle school that shared space with a high school. Because he was smoking, he spent a lot of time in the smoking court. This was when he first started using drugs. But he didn’t have much money to purchase them. The older kids from his school and neighbourhood taught him how to break into and steal from nearby houses. It wasn’t very long before Zane got caught and sent to an institution for young offenders. Many of the other young offenders he met there became part of his friend circle when he got out.
Things kept getting worse from there and he spent the next few years caught in a vicious downward spiral. He used drugs as often as he could, skipped school until he dropped out in Grade 10, and was in and out of institutions for young offenders. By 17, he was living on the street and in youth shelters, where his drug use got even worse. Soon he was using drugs daily and doing everything he could to get more. He landed in jail for the first time on his 18th birthday, where he saw many familiar faces from his neighbourhood and his previous time in youth institutions. When he got out of jail, he kept hanging out with the same group of people and doing the same things.
Life on the streets was not good to Zane. At 19, he was attacked and robbed, putting him in a coma for 17 hours. The brain injury he suffered affects his speech to this day. When he left the hospital after 4 months of recovery, the doctors told him not to use drugs because of how fragile his brain was from the injury. But Zane was too far gone by this point. He went right back to using drugs as often as he could. He was arrested again after only a couple of months. But because he was a refugee, he faced more than jail time. The Immigration and Refugee Board told Zane that he’d be held in jail until he could be deported back to Rwanda.
In desperation, Zane got in touch with Harvest House and received permission from the Immigration and Refugee Board to come to our addiction treatment program.
Zane needed help. He needed a community where he could learn to overcome addiction and live differently. His time at Harvest House hasn’t always been smooth. Like so many others, his recovery journey has been a mixture of success and failure. But he stuck it out. And over time things started to change.
When he came to Harvest House, Zane was 20 years old with a criminal record, no high school diploma, and no work experience. As he worked on his recovery, he began taking advantage of the opportunities at Harvest House and building the foundation for a successful life. In 2015, he participated in Harvest House’s continuing education program and earned his high school equivalency diploma.
After completing his first year at Harvest House, Zane moved to our re-entry housing and continued participating in the program as a senior resident and junior staff member. Over time, he was given more responsibility. He started working at Harvest House, providing support in the administration office and helping with the everyday operations of the facility. Recognizing his potential, staff members encouraged Zane to pursue post-secondary education. He applied to Carleton’s Enriched Support Program, which gives people who lack the qualifications for traditional admission an opportunity to attend university and the academic support necessary to succeed. After completing his first year of university, Zane continued his studies and went on to work as a peer mentor in this program. He is now set to graduate in November 2020 with a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and Economics.
When Zane was 19, things looked beyond hopeless. A web of poverty, addiction, and trauma had entangled him, eventually leading him to a jail cell. Today, things look completely different. He’s been sober for five years, contributed meaningfully to his community, and experienced success at university.
Despite his progress, Zane still faces the possibility of deportation. In April 2021, he’ll find out whether the changes he’s made are enough for the Immigration and Refugee Board to let him remain in Canada.
Zane needed the support of a community to help him change and recognize his potential. Harvest House exists to help young men struggling with addiction and teach them how to live differently. This isn’t just about helping them quit drugs and alcohol, but about helping them overcome the things that led them to drugs in the first place and helping them succeed in all areas of life. In recovery, no one can do it alone.