Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Refugee family member 'too black'

Surprised by treatment in adopted nation

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They fled Zimbabwe to protect their children.

A year after arriving in Winnipeg, though, Gertrude and George Hambira's kids say they have been kicked while they're down and told they're "too black."

"It's very, very hurtful," said Gertrude Hambira.

The exiled labour leader who fought for the rights of more than a million farm workers in Zimbabwe never expected to worry about her children's safety and well-being in Canada.

On Oct. 18, George Jr., a Grade 3 student, slipped and fell during recess and couldn't get up. He had broken his femur. Kids gathered around him, including a girl in a higher grade who often said mean things to George at recess. "She was hurting my feelings," said the boy, who wouldn't repeat the words. This recess, though, she hurt more than his feelings, he said.

"She kept kicking me," George recalled. "Someone pushed her out of the way."

George was taken by ambulance to a hospital and spent four days there. When he told his mom what happened to him after he fell and broke his leg, she was sickened and not sure how to respond to her son.

"You don't want to leave a negative connotation -- that it's happened to us because we are not accepted."

The superintendent of the Pembina Trails School Division said George wasn't kicked, but nudged by a student who wanted to see if George was all right. Lawrence Lussier said the school investigated and there was no report of anyone bullying the boy. No one was trying to hurt George intentionally when he broke his leg, so no discipline was warranted, said Lussier.

George was in traction and a cast from his waist to his ankle for seven weeks. He required a wheelchair and a hospital bed when he returned home. A tutor came to the home until he was able to return to classes.

George said he was happy to return to school. The older girl who picked on him at recess before "nudging" his broken leg stopped bothering him, he said.

His mother was ready to put the matter to rest until George's sister, Kuda, came home from high school Nov. 29 upset by a racist comment.

The quiet and petite Grade 11 student at Oak Park High School was told she is "too black" by another student.

Kuda said a tall, blond older girl approached her by the door of the science room and said something like, "I have friends who are black so I'm not racist but you're too black."

She was stunned. Since arriving at the school last December, it was the first time Kuda felt the sting of racism.

"I just felt like I was not welcomed. Why would you say that (to anyone)?" She went home and told her mom, who went to the school the next day when Kuda had no classes. Gertrude said the acting principal couldn't look into the matter until she spoke to Kuda.

Kuda went to the office to explain what happened. Unless she could name the student, there was nothing the school could do. She was invited to look through pages and pages of student photos to identify the girl.

Instead, Kuda returned to the same place near the door of the science room every lunch hour, hoping to spot her and that one of her friends would know her name. With a name, the school could talk to the girl and address the issue.

"People should account for what they say if it's not right," said Kuda.

Lussier agrees. He said division schools teach and promote diversity and tolerance.

"If we ever discover who said those words to Kuda, we will spend time with them and work with them one-on-one," said Lussier.

He wants the Hambiras to feel welcome and at home in the community. So do some of George's friends' moms. They organized a bud, spud and steak night Dec. 8 to help the Hambiras with the expenses related to George's accident.

"I really appreciate the people in the community," said Gertrude.

Talking about what happened, though, is the only way there can be healing for everyone, she said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 A5

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