Call Your Neighbour
“Belonging is where your voice is heard, where you feel safe. A place where you can call on your neighbour.”
“I feel like this Revitalization is like a wave. And if we miss the wave, there’s a lot of things that we’ll be missing.”
“As a Muslim, the masjid is where you feel at home and also where you feel close to God, where you feel you can go when you are stressed out. That’s where you go to feel calm and all of that. And when that took place (the Quebec Mosque Shooting), it just shocked me!”
Sureya Ibrahim has lived in Regent Park for 22 years and is recognized as a community leader by many residents. From her perspective, her “role in Regent Park is to continuously advocate for access to space for residents.” Born in Ethiopia, as the middle child in a large family, Sureya had to do whatever her siblings asked of her and often felt like she didn’t have a voice. As a child she was very shy and didn’t have the tools to stand up for herself. Her siblings would ask her to do their chores and run errands in exchange for pocket money. From time to time, she would do odd jobs for extra pocket money, like henna designs for girls and women.
From Ethiopia, Sureya moved temporarily to Italy before settling in Toronto in her late teens. She was sponsored by her older brother, who already had a family. When she lived in Italy, she thought it was cold, but it wasn’t until she arrived in Canada in December, that she realized what winter really was. Sureya had the support of her cousins in Toronto, but she lived with her older brother and his family. She remembers describing snow to her father back home as “cotton”.
At 22 years old, Sureya decided to move to Regent Park with her first child, a daughter. Her cousins thought she was crazy for wanting to move here because Regent Park was perceived to be a scary and dangerous place by many. But this conception did not match Sureya’s experiences of the neighbourhood. The discussion around revitalization in Regent Park had just begun when she arrived in the neighbourhood. She recalls living in a building that stood where the Freshco currently stands, and she remembers a lot of dust, mold, and allergies due to the conditions of the building. As a community leader and active member of the Regent Park Residents Association (RPNA), Sureya has been an active champion for residents’ interests throughout the redevelopment, ensuring residents have a say in the changes.
In addition to Sureya’s advocacy on the RPNA, she has also supported the creation of the Regent Park Catering Collective, creating economic opportunities for local residents. The Collective has about 50 women and has now served more than 500 catering orders and events. This is significant because for the first time many of these women are able to bring home money for their families. Sureya is also a member of Access Recreation which is a community-led initiative that supports low-income residents to access the new recreation spaces and services in Regent Park. You can read a story about this group’s work below.
Sureya is the proud mother of three children and continues to be an advocate who is committed to helping her community thrive.
Access to the Pool - A story from Sureya:
“After the new buildings were built it didn’t end there. I remember before the pool was open, the City Councillor said to me, ‘Sureya make sure that we advocate for the ladies to ensure they actually use the pool’. And I told her, ‘there is no place to swim just to stand on the poolside’. And open swim was only one hour when we started, and I said, ‘this is not working. You need to extend the hours and make it two hours so people can access it’. Then, when they opened the swimming programs, there was a fee attached. And I went to the City Councillor and said, ‘you are making people choose between going to the pool and buying food. Which one are they going to choose? You need to find a way to wave it and make the pool and programs free.’ So it’s not ‘Yes, hip hip hooray, we have a pool’. We need to be involved and participate in anything that’s being developed in our own neighbourhood. Right now I’m pushing to have a priority for people who live here to have first access to the pool. We’ve been at it for a while now, and a couple of weeks ago, we had a press conference with the local lCity Councillor to advocate for priority reserved spaces. I’m pleased to say that we are working to have more than 50% of the spaces saved for people who live in Regent Park. The lesson here is that if you open it up for everybody, then anyone, even people living further away in Scarborough could register here before local people. So, people who are here, they don’t have a spot, and people with high-speed internet from Scarborough have more access and can get it.”