Nova Scotia

Film tells slain St. FX woman's story

A woman who made a film about an Antigonish, N.S., woman who was killed in her home Wednesday speaks out about a woman she called brave and inspiring.

Antigonish professor came a long way from her roots in Zimbabwe

The late Ottilia Chareka speaks in the film Familiar Stranger in this YouTube clip.

An Antigonish, N.S., woman who was killed in her home this week was brave and inspiring, says a local filmmaker who made a documentary about her.

Ottilia Chareka, a professor at St. Francis Xavier University and a mother of five, was killed Wednesday.

Her husband, Patrick Chareka, 47, was arrested and charged Thursday with first-degree murder.

Cara Jones, a photographer and filmmaker, met Chareka when she was creating a photo exhibit in Antigonish called Familiar Strangers. It was composed of photographs of people she regularly encountered in her life but did not know.

Jones was so struck by the 42-year-old woman's story that she later made a short film about her life. Thousands of people watched it on YouTube this week and left comments remembering Chareka.

"I think this documentary is important because they can be proud of her," Jones said of Chareka's children. "We are proud of her, but this is a symbol of the impact their mother had on the world. And she should not be forgotten."

Jones said she was greatly saddened by Chareka's death.

"She was awesome, a really cool lady, an African sister," Jones said. "She was somebody who really influenced a lot of people in this community. She taught a lot of people. She calls people, 'You know I'm your African sister and you're my Canadian sister.' I think it really makes people feel quite touched by her."

In the film Familiar Stranger, Chareka says she was from Zimbabwe but moved to Canada because it was a country full of opportunity.

"I knew from day one what I want to do: I want to be a teacher, and no one was going to stop me," Chareka says in the film. "I had to go against the culture, and for your information I was the first girl in my clan to complete high school. I had to be a rebel in order for me to advance. My father didn't want to pay tuition for me because I was a girl, so I had to work for my tuition."

From employing a maid to working as one

When she eventually moved to Canada and wanted to continue her work, she found her teaching degree was not recognized. She retrained at the University of New Brunswick, working as a hotel maid in Fredericton to pay for her tuition. In the film, she says it was a change for her, since in Zimbabwe she had owned a house and employed a maid.

She got her master's degree in 1994, returned to Zimbabwe in 2001, then went back to the University of New Brunswick to do her PhD in 2005.

"And here I am a professor," she says in Familiar Stranger. "Whoever knew that a poor little girl growing up in rural Africa would reach this far, but it is because of Canada."

Chareka worked with the education department at St. FX, living her life by four principles: faith, hope, perseverance and resilience.

"As a teacher, my main hope is that I would be able to inspire other girls to be like me and not only to be like me, but even to surpass me," Chareka says. "My main hope was to inspire my cousins, sisters and all other women within the community I've come from."

To that end, she sent money to Zimbabwe to help other women gain an education. Chareka says her mother and grandmother inspired her.

"She jumped out of the frame and into my heart, inspiring me with her unbelievable passion and her amazing ability to empower and change the lives of all those who came across her path," Jones says in the film.

A memorial service will be held for Chareka on  Sunday in Antigonish.