Memorial University student, Ariyana Maria Gomes needed emergency support for food and rent during the coronavirus pandemic. She is one of the hundreds who found themselves in a similarly dire situation.

When the pandemic hit the Country, Ariyana Maria Gomes was alone in St. John’s.

She faced many unknown situations, like how she would afford rents and groceries, amid the stress of trying to stay alive and healthy so far from her home in Bangladesh.

“I had very little interaction with people. So that really impacted me mentally. I was all alone in my house,” she said.

“And the other thing was there was a financial issues as well.”

Gomes is one of the many international students at Memorial University who, in the span of the past few months, needed some form of financial supports after the COVID-19 crisis thrust them into crisis no one could have planned for, and found themselves facing food insecurity.

Because of their unique status, staying in Canada on student visas, many were not able to get emergency federal funding available to other students.

Gomes also could not qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit because she couldn’t make the minimum $5,000 in the twelve (12) months leading up to the pandemic.

For Gomes, it was the culmination of a number of unfortunate events all happening at once. First, she lost her job because of the shutdown. Then, her family back home could not send help.

“It was very hard to send money. My mother could not send money to me for about a month and I only have little savings,” she said.

Emergency help

Gomes did what she could to stay alive. She came to some arrangement with her landlord for late rent payments and then received help from NL Eats, a local food bank that delivers.

She also got help from the Memorial University, with a $100 gift card for groceries. It came from an emergency fund support by the university.

Gomes said without those gift cards and hampers she doesn’t know what she would have done.

“I honestly don’t know what to do. I think if that did not happen, I would have actually had to go door-to-door or at random homes about help,” she said.

Pandemic needs persist

According to MUN’s Internationalization Office, 508 foreign students needed emergency funding during the coronavirus pandemic. 41 Canadian students required supports as well.

Lynn Walsh, the manager of the office, said some international students lost jobs, others couldn’t return to their native countries because of border closures and others couldn’t get money sent to them because of the crisis in their home countries.

Walsh also said that an emergency fund set up with donations from faculty, staffs and alumni — totalling about $190,000 — has been distributed.

Memorial university is hoping to get more donations.

“There are still students that are in need of financial assistance. The months don’t change right? Your rents and the needs you have for the coming months are going to continue,” said Walsh.

The issue is but a national problem as well.

“We’re hearing from a number of our members that many international students that maybe are stranded in Canada and not able to go home, or who have decided to stay in these communities amidst pandemic, are really struggling to keep their heads above water,” said Bryn de Chastelain, president of the Canadian Alliance Student Association, a non-profit organization that advocates for student support.

De Chastelain said his association is calling on the Canadian government to extend the emergency student benefits to international students.

“We know that students from foreign countries contribute billions of dollars to the Canadian economy and they add a significant amount of value to our university classrooms and experience,” he said.

Gomes is among those set of students, and as public health restrictions are gradually being lifted in Newfoundland and Labrador, things are finally getting back to normal for her.

She’s now working, and her mother can now send money if she needs it. But COVID-19 has shown just how precarious an international student’s situation can become.

Share with friends

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.