Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Anti-gang huddle for newcomers

Youth group sounds alarm for parents

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INNER-CITY families who immigrate to Canada often say they arrive expecting a land of plenty but soon discover it's mined with the pitfalls of poverty, gangs and drugs as well as opportunity.

This weekend, one Winnipeg youth group will try to help them find a safe and positive path to the good life in their new home.

The Nigerian Association for Young Adults of Canada is hosting a meeting of parents and police this Sunday at the University of Winnipeg. The poster advertising the event is blunt -- a handgun with a buster symbol through it, the purpose spelled out plain as day: "Drug and Gang Awareness for Immigrant Parents and Youth."

'Canada is the land of opportunity. You can realize your dreams'

-- Shola Agboola (above), of the Nigerian Association for Young Adults of Canada

Organizer Shola Agboola said he knows many newcomer parents are working more than one job to support their families, but taking time to attend the meeting and get informed is crucial.

"This is the most important thing -- it's about your future in this country," said Agboola, who immigrated from Nigeria a decade ago.

The young dad now works full time for the provincial Justice Department and is studying for a master's degree in public administration. When he arrived through the provincial nominee program from Nigeria with a university degree and experience working for a multinational corporation there, he thought his career would take off. It didn't. He found a job slinging coffee at Robin's Donuts.

"It was a shock."

Recent newcomers need the established community to reach out, offer them hope and show them the way, said Agboola, one of 1,340 Nigerian Winnipeggers identified in a 2011 Statistics Canada National Household Survey. Of Winnipeg's 650,000 people, nearly one-third -- 142,230 -- are immigrants, the survey said.

Some don't have the roots or connections here to get the guidance and support they need, said Agboola. They're often struggling to make ends meet and find decent housing, he said. Their kids may feel the sting of being outsiders with accents and become the target of gangs and drugs, Agboola said.

He and other volunteers are organizing Sunday's information session with the RCMP and Winnipeg police to avoid that. They want to connect people to the services that can help them and provide information to parents and youths about gang tactics and consequences, he said. No immigrant wants to see their child deported from the country they struggled and saved to get to, he said.

"Canada is the land of opportunity," Agboola said. "You can realize your dreams."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 A10

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