Makai Aref has spent her entire adult life helping the women of war torn Afghanistan.

As a young woman she taught in a girl’s school and advocated to advance women’s rights in the that country. But, by 1992, Afghanistan was ravaged by never-ending war and had become especially dangerous for educated women. Makia had to leave. She packed up her family and they all fled to Russia, eventually coming to Montreal as refugees 10 years ago.

When she arrived, she was surprised to find so many Afghan women feeling alone, isolated by language and culture. Makai recognized a need and went to work right away, founding the Afghan Women’s Centre.

They meet upwards of four times a month, to cook traditional Afghan cuisine. “This is one of the talents, the skills for women that everybody knows at home. Even if they don’t know the language, they are able to cook,” she says.

On this day they are making ashok, little dumplings stuffed with leeks, coriander and lots of garlic. While eight women sit around the table stuffing the little purses, they talk. The conversation varies on any given day from health to social services, and sometimes to family violence. “We had a very sad example last year with the Shafia case,” says Makai. The murders of four women, including three sisters, were a wakeup call for the community. Makai says it spurred the centre to get a dialogue going. She’s brought in speakers from organizations like the Shield of Athena to talk about family violence.

The centre also offers English and computer lessons and even has a catering business to help break the isolation and introduce them to the work force. And none of it would be possible without Makai.

She admits, as she gets older, she does sometimes think about retiring. But the thought fades quickly she says, since there really isn`t anyone to replace her. She volunteers her time, for what amounts to a full-time job. “This is my hobby, this keeps me busy, this is good for me. I love to work and help women”.

But it hasn’t been easy. Funding for the non-profit organization is scarce and finding cheap space with a kitchen has proven to be a constant challenge. In the last ten years, the centre has been forced to move five times.

Desperate for a place to call home, the Southwest United Church and Mission in Verdun answered their prayers a year and a half ago, and generously leant them a space for their meetings, at no charge.

It seemed like their troubles were over. But, recently Makai received a nasty surprise in the form of a letter.

The church needs the space. The Centre is being evicted again. As of August 1st, they have to find a new home. “It is hard for me and my community, she says. But, she won`t give up. Makai says they will meet in the metro if they have to, but they will meet. She`ll make it happen.

If you would like to help and have a space with a kitchen to lend the Afghan Women’s Centre please call Makai Aref at 450-424-7255.

Debra Arbec co-anchors CBC News Montreal with Andrew Chang weekdays from 5 – 6:30 pm. Watch for her “Montrealer of the Week” segment Fridays during the 6pm newscast. To see past profiles, visit: www.cbc.ca/montreal

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