Monday, March 06, 2006

A Wonderful Visit With Mary Majka

Last week I had a wonderful visit with my friend Mary Majka of Mary's Point in beautiful Albert County, New Brunswick Canada.

Many times our paths would cross, sometimes in stores, in parking lots, conversations easy and full of sharing, just never long enough.

A few weeks ago Mary called and invited me down for a good visit. A visit where we could share a cup of tea, watch the Bay of Fundy tides roll out. We shared our many projects, books we have both read and tid-bits of stories of our lives.

This particular visit with Mary was quite special. I was introduced to Mary's lovely adopted daughter Aga. We sat together as Mary and Aga shared their story.

The following story was written by Mary, as I enjoyed it, I trust you will also. The photo of Mary and Aga was taken by David Christie.

From Agnieszka to Aga....The journey of a Young Immigrant

It is still like a miracle to me that this young person named Aga is the same Agnieszka who came into my life a decade ago and became an unexpected source of joy and pride.

Agnieszka was born in Sosnowiec, in the most industrialized part of Poland. From the beginning her childhood was clouded by her mother's problems (brought on by an accident at birth). While not exactly retarded, this lady suffered from limited ability to acquire basic life skills, or to comprehend financial responsibilities. Rearing children and maintaining lasting relationships are difficult for her. Although family members and various services have been trying to help her, their success has been limited.

This is how it came about that Agnieszka's aunt, who had recently immigrated to Canada, decided to invite her for a summer vacation. As noble as this gesture was, it carried with it a big problem. The 13-year-old was just going to spend two months in Canada and then return back to Poland.

By chance, I heard about the child's circumstances at home, and especially, after receiving information from Polish social services, I could not fathom thinking that this undernourished, frightened girl would be sent back to where she came from.

It was a difficult process to make the necessary arrangements, legal and otherwise, in order to have Agnieszka settle here. However, I'm sure, it was even more difficult for a 13-year-old to adapt and to get over so many hurtles. All of a sudden, she found out that she was not going home (and as she later confessed she was under the impression that she will never see her mother or her siblings again). She was torn between homesickness and a better life in Canada, which was still a strange and foreign place to her. In Poland, she had attended school only sporadically and had great gaps in her education. Enrolled in a Canadian school she not only had to overcome the strange surroundings but to acquire and study a new language. Unable to communicate well, at first she had no school friends and felt very alone.

However, Agnieszka (then called Nishka, which she later changed to Aga) bravely overcame all those obstacles. In her first year (6th grade), she advanced to the next grade. She joined a choir. At the Y she earned an advanced swimming certificate. She also was confirmed in her church. She ran a paper route, volunteered in a nursing home, where she would read to people with poor vision. She became a Girl Guide and attended several camps, later becoming a leader. She worked during the school year as a cashier in a grocery store. In summer she helped her cousin with her children, worked in a bed and breakfast, and later as a visitor information counselor. She was excellent as a guide and manager of a museum, as well as manager of a clothing store, at the same time getting better and better grades in school. At 16, she got her driver's license but most important she became a Canadian citizen. When she graduated from high school it was with honours - a great achievement for an immigrant girl from difficult circumstances. This year, 2006, she will graduate from Algonquin College in business administration and is planning to continue with more education and to upgrade her French-language capability.

Agnieszka never forgot her family in Poland, and feels almost guilty that fortune brought her here, where she is faring so well, while her mother and siblings have a difficult life. While I took care of her needs, she, throughout the years here, tried to earn extra money (by baby-sitting, cleaning houses, etc.) all designated for her family in Poland. After she reached the age of maturity (21 in Poland) she went for the first time for a visit. It was a very difficult time for her, a journey she does not like to talk about. Suffice to say, she came back with an even greater appreciation for her new country, Canada.

Throughout all those years I have been watching with pleasure her development and determination. She's a sensible, responsible and well-mannered young lady. She calls me her "second mom" and never forgets to thank me for my help. My reward is the pleasure of seeing her grow and mature into a valuable member of our society.

A Note of Interest....Mary Majka, Aga's "second mom" was also born in Poland, many years before Aga, but by an almost uncanny coincidence, they share the same birthday, March 9th. To make it even more eerie, their parents have the same names. Serendipity or destiny?