The “I Do!” Project – Survivors’ Initiative

The “I Do” Project began as a response, in Toronto, to the issue of forced marriage, with a response based on education through a partnership with the Toronto District School Board, as well as extensive outreach to newcomer communities, social service and settlement agencies, municipalities and other levels of government.  This initiative is a partnership with The Regions of York, Waterloo and City of Toronto, with SHOW as the lead agency.  We oversee outreach, research and peer support and workshop facilitation and in 2015 our focus was “survivor training”.

The “I Do!” Project conducted our Survivors’ Initiative which trained survivors of forced marriage to tell their stories safely and effectively, and to learn other workshop facilitation skills.  The survivors who graduated from this training went on to co-facilitate workshops for service providers from a wide variety of backgrounds (public health, education, social work, etc.)

It was exciting to watch survivors blossom into women who had confidence in their abilities and who owned their status as experts on their experiences escaping or evading a forced marriage. Their experiences were varied. One survivor had been in two forced marriages before escaping completely. Another had been forced into marriage by the leaders of her small, exclusive Protestant sect which originated in the UK. A third faced a forced marriage abroad which escalated into an execution order by her family, escaping only months before she took the training and told her story. Teaching and learning from survivors was inspiring and enriching for everyone involved.