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This article was published 21/11/2015 (525 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MANITOBA is bracing for as many as 1,000 new school kids in the classroom with the expected arrival of 2,000 Syrian refugees, but it's the after-school time that's most concerning to Surafel Kuchem.
"It's a critical hour," said the young man from Ethiopia, who knows from experience. He came to Canada as a teen in 2005 with his uncle after his parents died and now runs an after-school program in the inner city.
"The best way to help kids is to continue providing supports after school," said Kuchem.
If newcomer kids are not getting extra help with academic, language and social skills, they may end up being recruited by gangs or "engaged in risky behaviours that put you and your education at risk," he said.
"That's one thing I faced in high school walking home."
When Kuchem arrived in Canada, he attended Gordon Bell High School and was in the English as an additional language program. He went on to earn education and science degrees. He took part in a mentorship program with youth at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) and now runs its Homework and Education for Youth (HEY) after-school program at Victoria-Albert School.
Kids who are learning a new language and have missed school because of their refugee experience need all the extracurricular help they can get, he said.
"You have to work twice as hard, and twice as much as a Canadian student to catch up in academic and social skills," he said.
The HEY program that now helps up to 45 kids after school every day expects to grow with the arrival of Syrian newcomers, he said.
"Our main job will be supporting them in the after-school hours and connecting them to resource centres if there's anything that needs to be addressed," he said.
As a teacher and school liaison, Kuchem said he works with the kids' teachers to help them better understand their students and the social and economic challenges they face on top of the pressures of resettlement.
"Schools do their best, but the needs of these students are great," said Shereen Denetto, executive director of IRCOM. Refugee kids are often dealing with language barriers, great sadness and loss, culture shock and having to catch up several grade levels if they missed many years of school due to war and living in refugee settings, she said.
The Manitoba government said Wednesday it will invest $270,000 over two years to support programs for at-risk youth, including refugees from Syria expected to arrive in the province soon.
Of that, $90,000 will go to provide "trauma-informed" mental-health supports, $90,000 through the First Jobs Strategy for employment readiness and job supports for war-affected youth, and $30,000 to the Summer Internship program offered by CanU Canada, an after-school program that began in 2010 and provides Winnipeg children with opportunities for career exploration and skill development.
The IRCOM after-school program -- up and running since 2011 -- received $60,000.
Denetto said they had been working hard to come up with the funding to sustain it -- until the province stepped up.
"This funding, along with funding from other supporters such as the Lount Foundation and MTS, will ensure we can continue to keep our doors open and also be ready to serve Syrian and other refugee youth coming to Winnipeg in the near future."