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How one Sister is helping women in Winnipeg

Sister Lesley Sacouman, executive director of Holy Names' House of Peace, tends to Eden and Hosanna, a pair of canaries, in Neighbours, her residence for single women in transition in downtown Winnipeg.

john woods The Globe and Mail

Sister Lesley Sacouman, executive director, Holy Names House of Peace, Winnipeg

She doesn't hop on too many planes but Sister Lesley Sacouman, 65, sees the world through the eyes of the young women who come from as far away as Eritrea, Iran and Malaysia. They come seeking shelter and a new start at the House of Peace's Neighbours Program – a safe home for women in transition. Twelve-hour days, a steady stream of people seeking a place to build – or rebuild – their lives, the time to pray and reflect (and the occasional dose of X-Factor) fill Sister Lesley's day. Building two more floors on the House of Peace to accommodate 12 more women who need shelter is her mission.

Why devote yourself to this?

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"If you have a safe home, then everything else makes sense. You can build on that. If we don't have a place to go home tonight it doesn't matter what resources are available."

First steps

"I shared my dream with four of the Sisters of the Holy Names. We struggled with how we would do this and a year later, a local businessman, Bob Dick of Hargrave Holdings, purchased a building, gave it to us for free for the first four months, and then for $3.67 a square foot. In downtown Winnipeg that was a real deal."

Aha! moment

"In 2002, I moved to New York City and lived in a shelter with street people. Although it was a shelter where people could be safe, it was filthy. We lived with cockroaches and mice and showered once a week and that just about killed me. I knew then that I would build a home that was safe and clean, a place where I myself would want to live and now I do. House of Peace is my home."

Your hero

"The women, I really admire them to no end. For all the hurt they carry, they are so giving and caring of one another. Regardless of their circumstances there are no complaints, there is only hope."

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Who have you helped?

"Forty-nine women aged 19 to 45, from 15 different countries and 10 different faiths since 2004. We have every 12-step program you can imagine, including a Cocaine Anonymous program and a program for women coming out of jail, which helps them adapt back into the community."

Define success

"I am thrilled when a resident leaves, gets a job and then comes back to volunteer. They give back, they volunteer, they cook, help with finances. One woman, with her very first paycheque, gave us $100 because the House of Peace was the first place that welcomed her from Nigeria. Imagine, her first paycheque, and she gives the shelter $100."

What's your next goal, and how much will it cost?

"We are in the final lap of completing a two-storey build so we can add 12 more beds to the shelter. To complete the build we need $50,000."

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What keeps you going?

"My faith and my relationship with God keep me going. This is experienced in the work I do with the women, the city and the business community."

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Farah Mohamed is president of the Belinda Stronach Foundation. Send suggestions for the Action Figure to

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