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Sisters Synching together to assist international students in the midst of COVID-19

Tiffany Mongu | @ms.mng

Inspired by their stories Gwen Madiba from Equal Chance and Joëlle Kabisoso from Sisters in Synch, have collaborated to help international students in Canada that are struggling financially in the midst of COVID-19.

Madiba is a women and children’s rights advocate. She is devoted to empowering women and young girls around the world. With the many communities, she’s touched, she has managed to create safe spaces where individuals feel valued and respected despite their social background, race or age.

Picture of Gwen Madiba (source: @gwenmadiba)

Similar to Madiba, Kabisoso is the founder of Sisters in Synch, a non-profit organization that provides young women with support in education, mental health and overall personal growth. She’s a rape survivor that transformed her trauma into a narrative to empower women and young girls of different ages and races around the world by creating safe spaces for them. Her goal is to not let other women feel alone, afraid or sad as she did for five years after the occurrence of her sexual abuse.

Picture of Joelle Kabisoso (source: @joellekabisoso)

Madiba says she chose to work with Kabisoso due to her ability as a Black woman to empower and inspire other women and young girls through her story. Kabisoso was chosen to delegate at an annual event for Equal Chance’s called She Can Empower, at the United Nations in New York. Madiba says as they were reviewing files to pick their lucky recipient, the resiliency portrayed in Kabisoso’s story was one that stood out to her the most.

Madiba then figured Kabisoso’s eagerness to help others around her was an element needed to make this campaign successful.

“To think that there are also sisters that are going through a lot, it was a good match for us to work with [Sisters in Synch],” said Madiba.


COVID-19 has resulted in many misfortunes across the globe and has affected many citizens including international students. About two weeks ago, Madiba and Kabisoso phoned many foreign students to inquire about their situation and what they can do to help them. As a result, many students expressed their issues and fears associated with COVID-19, the ladies say a majority of these students originate from African and Asian countries.

The common perception that international students are filthy rich because they study abroad is not the reality that most face here in Canada, especially during COVID-19. Kabisoso realized this when she spoke to foreign students.

“A lot of it actually broke my heart, to hear what many of them were saying,” said Kabisoso. “A lot of them were saying after the semester is over they don’t have anywhere to go.”

Foreign students’ mental well-being is challenged due to the uncertainties they’re facing, according to the experiences shared with Madiba and Kabisoso. Madiba says that some students have been informed by their universities through letters, that they would need to go back to their homes.

"Foreign students' mental well-being is challenged"

“I was actually shocked reading [those letters] because I don’t know Canadians to be like that,” said Madiba. “To tell people ‘go back home to your country’ in the middle of a pandemic.”

Going back home for some students would mean not having proper access to the internet, all while still being obligated to complete major assignments and exams online because their professors are refusing to defer them.

Madiba finds this as a form of injustice towards students.

“Some students have parents that have been laid off back home, that don’t have money and that don’t have the head to study and you’re saying ‘you can’t defer exams’… I don’t think that’s fair.”

In addition to encountering financial ineligibility from Canadian emergency response benefits, international students still face barriers accessing emergency funds donated by their universities. Some students said they’ve applied for the funds and were approved. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to benefit from the funds.

One student, in particular, shared with Madiba and Kabisoso they were approved for $500 but were unable to receive the funds because their university deducted that money towards an outstanding balance, failing to realize that this student is facing financial hardships.


It is under these circumstances international students are now seeking help from any organization that’s able to be of help to them since they currently face financial ineligibility from the Canadian benefits.

Originally from Gabon and Senegal, Madiba recalls also being a struggling international student far away from home, at the age of 19. She’s faced homelessness for two months and moved into a shelter since she had nowhere to go, all while working three jobs in order to financially sustain herself and dealing with the death of her father.

“I was so grateful that I was able to get those three jobs to get out of the shelter, which is not the reality for a lot of [international students],” said Madiba. “They don’t have access period.”

As co-president of Equal Chance, a non-profit organization based in Ottawa that aims to create equal opportunities for all men, women, boys and girls around the world, Madiba hopes to trickle down the effect of her strong advocacy to help these international students.

Equal Chance launched the International Students Emergency Relief Fund (ISERF), the objective of this campaign is to raise money for international students that aren’t able to sustain themselves through this hard time. Their goal is to raise $100,000 by the end of June and so far, they’ve successfully raised over $3,000.

Social media has helped gain the attention ISERF deserves, Kabisoso says on her part she’s been frequently posting content to help support these students. “My responsibility is to get the students’ stories out,” said Kabisoso. “We want videos of them explaining what their needs are and what they’re experiencing right now so that we can really collect as much [content].”

"My responsibility is to get the students' stories out"

Public personalities such as Innoss’B, Singuila, Joan Kelly Walker and Melie Tiacoh, were able to support the initiative by reposting the cause on their social media platforms. Madiba believes this to be the most effective way to bring awareness to the campaign. “I think that since people are on social media, we need to use these platforms to get more people.”

Kabisoso’s end goals for the campaign is to provide the help needed for the international students and highlight the importance of community fellowship. “We’re hoping that this is the type of campaign we don’t have to heavily rely on these big corporations,” said Kabisoso. “Instead, we could really show [a sense] of community.”

Madiba is eager to fulfill duties that the government is unable to do for these students.

“Our goal is to pick up where the government can’t pick up and try our best as a community of people.”

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