The journey from Sudan to Winnipeg was long for Binyam and his family. In 2010 the family of seven came to Canada for better access to education and economic opportunities. But in their new country they faced fears, challenges and anxiety. Had they made a bad decision?
“Starting over was hard,” says Binyam, 16. “Sometimes I wondered if I should have stayed in Sudan.”
Binyam worried about things such as how to dress for cold winter weather (the average temperature in Sudan is 28 C), where he could buy food from his homeland, his low level of English and how he would fit in.
“My limited English skills made it impossible for me to communicate and build friendships,” says Binyam. “The loneliness was painful.”
Then one day some neighbourhood kids invited Binyam to a drop-in centre to hang out and engage in recreational activities. He jumped at the offer.
“The Salvation Army’s Barbara Mitchell Family Resource Centre is like a huge house with a gymnasium, community kitchen, large living room, daycare, classrooms and a computer lab,” says Binyam. “Here I met kids with the same cultural background, built strong, positive relationships and a good support network. It was like being part of a big family.”
Many of the community members who access the centre’s programs and services have multiple barriers and are affected by low education/literacy levels, language, culture, social isolation, inadequate employment skills and low coping skills.
“Programs such as the English café, kids club, youth drop-in and employment training for war-affected youth, are transporting individuals and families from isolation to acceptance and belonging” says Florence Quan, Family Life Co-ordinator.
Due to a generous gift of $1.9 million from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, capital improvements and year-round programing are changing lives and giving hope to the Winnipeg community of St. Vital, which houses three times the amount of newcomers than any other area in the city.
Named in memory of the late Barbara Mitchell (daughter of Garfield Weston), who took particular pleasure in the company of children, the centre provides opportunities for kids like Binyam to improve their language skills, volunteer, learn new skills and own a sense of belonging.
“I don’t feel like an outsider anymore,” says Binyam. “And that means a lot.”