On Wednesday, May 31, students in our LINC program received a very special visit – Anna Jarmics, artist, single mother, and many-times-over 55+ Canadian Darts Champion, came to inspire our students with her own story of perseverance and faith. Setting her apart even further is the fact that Anna has achieved all she has in life without having any hands.
Anna was a 10-year-old girl growing up in Hungary when the Russians arrived during World War II. As she recalls, she was playing outside with her younger brother and sister when a soldier threw a small hand grenade between them. Being the oldest, she felt she had to throw the grenade away, but in her haste to get away from her siblings she tripped on the sidewalk, detonating the grenade. She awoke hours later in the hospital, where, due to wartime shortages, her hands were amputated without the use of anesthetic. This would be only the first in a series of challenges put to Anna – she would go on to escape Hungary for Austria on foot, heavily pregnant; she raised three of her four children during her time in refugee camps in Austria and England, and she would continue to raise her children alone after her husband succumbed to alcoholism and abandoned the family. Anna’s family arrived in Canada in 1968, determined to share a place they could rightfully call home.
Students were rapt with attention as Anna recounted her initial attempts at finding work. She had landed in Canada with little to no English (“my English-Hungarian dictionary was my best friend, and I still have it”) and employers didn’t want to hire her on the grounds that she couldn’t possibly perform her duties without any hands. Finally, as she was applying for a job as a cleaner, she told them: “Let me work two weeks. If you’re not satisfied, if I can’t do your job, what you wanted, I said, I leave without pay. I worked there for five and a half years.” By her own admission, Anna was too stubborn to ask anyone for help or to use financial support – she wanted to raise her family on her own, even if that meant that she eventually worked seven different jobs. And while it’s not an approach she would necessarily recommend to newcomers to Canada today, she was firm on one thing: you can do anything you put your mind to, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
A question and answer session with students following Anna’s story revealed just how much inspiration she had given them. Her audience was astonished when she revealed examples of her fine needlepoint work and paintings, and leaned forward in their chairs to catch her words. She was asked whether she still remembers her native language, Hungarian (a very emphatic “of course!”), what was the single hardest time in her life (living in the refugee camp in Austria), and whether she cooks at home (all the time; truly delicious Hungarian food and baking to boot), among other questions. Finally, one female student put her hand up and said ““I don’t have a question. But I just want to say that you are wonderful.”
Anna wrapped up her talk by reaffirming the importance of self-confidence and determination, as well as her faith in God and His role in helping her raise her family on her own throughout the years. She left our students with this message: “Each country is different and each country is giving you a different idea of life. So if you chose this country, I hope you’re going to be happy, and you trust me, because I [have done this]. I believed, and then I did my best to do whatever it takes, and then that’s the only way you’re going to survive in life. Believe in yourself, it’s very, very important. You have to. You have to trust yourself, you have to listen to your heart, and follow what you believe. I don’t believe there is a difference between any of us. I am equal to you, and you, and you [pointing to the audience]. We are all God’s gifts on this earth. As soon as we start accepting the equality of everyone on this planet, then we can have the most beautiful world.” It’s a message that each of us is sure to remember in the years to come.