People of faith ease difficult adjustments for African newcomers
Fear of youth gangs one of the top concerns for immigrants and refugees
By Aaron Epp | Monday, August 27, 2012
Reuben Garang, who came to Canada from Kenya eight years ago, wrote a report about the experience of African refugees and immigrants in Winnipeg. Photo by Aaron Epp
WINNIPEG, MBSince arriving from Kenya eight years ago, Reuben Garang has supported his wife and four children and earned a Bachelor's of Science from the University of Winnipeg. He currently serves as a leader in his church, volunteers at Winnipeg Harvest and is taking Master's courses in development practice at the U of W.
But while he's doing well in many respects, Garang says adjusting to life in Canada as an African newcomer can still be difficult.
"I have to go to school to do my upgrading, I have to balance all thismy school, my community, my familyit's very difficult," says Garang, who was born in the southern Sudan and spent many years in refugee camps in Kenya.
Some African newcomers have it even harder, as shown in a report Garang authored for Winnipeg Harvest, a food distribution organization. It was released in July.
The report reveals that while African immigrants and refugees dream of Canada as a promised land, they often wake up to discover the harsh realities of poverty, excessive drinking, marital breakup and youth involvement in criminal gangs.
Garang recruited fellow newcomers to perform dozens of in-person surveys, mostly of African men. Women were recruited to lead women-only focus groups from specific regions of Winnipeg. More than 100 people took part.
The report found the biggest concern, according to 56 per cent of African newcomers, is their fear that their children will be recruited into youth gangs.
While there are many programs available to help African immigrants and refugees, those programs are not well known in the community.
Other factors, identified as obstacles to successful settlement, included short orientation programs, lack of information in dealing with finances, low level of engagement by the well-off and educated Africans in their communities, systemic racism and discrimination in the workplace, and non-recognition of immigrants' educational qualifications leading to unemployment and underemployment.
James Okot, the leader of Calvary Temple's African Fellowship, sees many of the people he worships with facing those challenges on a daily basis.
"Most [immigrants] come here because they think their children will have a brighter future here," Okot says. "But when they come here they see things differently because there is a real fear that instead of going to school, their children are being targeted to be in gangs."
Okot says Calvary Temple offers a variety of programs to help African refugees and immigrants when they arrive in Winnipeg. These include computer literacy programs, English as an additional language classes, an AIDS awareness program organized in conjunction with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, and occasional seminars about how to budget and work with finances.
"There are those who persevere and go to school and work hard, and we see them getting jobs," says Okot, who came to Canada from the southern Sudan 19 years ago. "Some new immigrants are succeeding. That is a sign that not everything is really dark, but still, the struggle is there."
Garang says the first step Winnipeggers need to take in addressing some of these issues is to understand that there is a problem, and to educate themselves about the realities facing African immigrants and refugees.
"If you want to help somebody, you have to understand them first," he says. "You have to know who they are and educate yourself. Communication is very important so that there's a better understanding. From there, help can come depending on the relationship established."