“We also joke around,” August said as her fellow members nod and chuckle. “And we cry.”
Chan chimes in, adding that some controversial discussions can get heated, “but there’s always a sense of safeness, comfort and compassion,” she said. “When you speak from your heart, it means that you’re vulnerable.”
For her, the violence that most of the drop-in group’s members have experienced in their lives taught a tragic lesson in survival: “Don’t say anything — to be safe.”
In the weekly group, Chan’s seen first-hand what can happen when a feeling of “emotional and spiritual” safety is nurtured.
“I’ve seen eyes opened in different people over time, including myself,” she revealed. “When you’re able to speak from your heart and not get bashed, (there’s) an amazing sense of confirming one’s purpose for being in life.”
August concurred, describing how joining the group turned her around and how even when there are “little dysfunctions” from time to time between members, through “chit-chat” and listening members learn to move through conflict with compassion. “Life goes stronger now,” she mused.
Although all three women described how the group helped them develop self-esteem and a voice, it’s not about self-help, they insisted. They attend talks and protests together, and help plan the annual Women’s Memorial March every February 14, which has honoured missing and murdered Indigenous women for 25 years.
The Power of Women serve as the “guardians” of the massive march, wearing yellow vests and walking arm-in-arm at the front and sides “to keep people in one marching direction … to keep people safe,” Durocher said. “You have a reason to live when you’re fighting poverty or homelessness, or for justice for the murdered and missing women, to me that’s empowering.
Despite meeting every week with the support of its facilitator Harsha Walia, a part-time Downtown Eastside Women’s Center staff member, the program doesn’t receive any funding.
“We want to make sure that’s available to other people as well,” Chan said.