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Canadian dream out of reach

Africans in 'Peg need more help to thrive: study

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When Elizabeth Andrea came to Canada as a refugee from South Sudan with her husband and five kids in 1998, she expected a chance at a better life -- and worked two jobs to get it.

But with little education and no time for English classes, her hard work didn't pay off. She was stressed out, her children struggled, one of her sons got in trouble, and then she got laid off. The irony wasn't lost on her.

"We came for the future of our children and a better life in Canada."

Andrea took part in a study looking at the potential consequences of success or failure for newcomers from Africa, which was released Tuesday.

It said African newcomers -- especially refugees -- are often overwhelmed getting settled. Established Canadians need to know why, said the report's author, Reuben Garang.

"I live downtown and every time I go out, I see the challenges facing African immigrants and I thought it would be good to talk to the people in the community about what needs to be done," said Garang.

The South Sudanese refugee said more than 100 African immigrants and refugees were interviewed for Integration and Settlement: the experiences and expectations of African immigrants and refugees.

They have a lot in common with others who are struggling, he said. One big difference, Garang said, is they're often traumatized from living in war zones and have very high expectations of a good life here.

"The standard of living is very high here, but you can't get it unless you educate yourself," said Andrea.

Losing a decent-paying factory job at Palliser Furniture was a blow, but it gave Andrea time to find and navigate the agencies that help newcomers. It wasn't easy, she said.

"We need more help," said the woman, who studied English as an additional language and got her Grade 12.

It would help if more African-Canadians worked for the service providers who helped them, said Andrea, who's studying social work in the fall and hopes to do that one day.

Seeing a familiar face and someone with a shared experience would make it easier to ask for help and for agencies to let people in African communities know they're there, she said.

The study found most of the newcomers had never heard of many agencies that could help them get settled.

Garang released his report at Winnipeg Harvest, where he volunteers and has worked as a summer student.

When newcomers first arrive, they attend an orientation session with information about services and help available to them, said the graduate student.

Newcomers are so overwhelmed, they can't remember it all, Garang found.

"We came here to settle and integrate but we need the support of the society."

That includes understanding cultural differences when it comes to help, he said.

In some African societies, for instance, when you see someone in need of assistance and you want to help, then you jump in, said Garang.

In western culture, it's considered impolite to help without asking permission first.

Getting help is key to receiving the education they need for success but, even then, the Canadian dream seems far off, said Garang.

For as much as Winnipeg is a diverse and welcoming place, Garang said, African newcomers struggle to get work in their field once they're educated.

He hopes his report gets people talking. "Support will come when society understands us."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2012 B1

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