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Helping newcomers find their voice

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Gonzalo Agrimbau with copies of The Past is Another Country at Prairie 360.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Gonzalo Agrimbau with copies of The Past is Another Country at Prairie 360. Photo Store

WINNIPEG benefits from newcomers' cuisine, culture and perspective and, for one night in January, it's celebrating all three.

Prairie 360, the revolving restaurant on the 28th floor of Fort Garry Place, is holding a four-course fundraising dinner Jan. 8 for a program that helps newcomers find their voice.

"I think it's great," said Gonzalo Agrimbau, who came to Winnipeg from Argentina two years ago and this year took part in the Finding Your Voice program at the Millennium Library.

"It's an excellent opportunity to explore something that has not been explored," said the man who studied English in high school. Participants in the six-week program meet on Saturdays and are given writing assignments to improve their verbal and written English.

"When you're an immigrant, there's so much to think about: how to adapt to the new culture, the new weather. This is a way to express yourself -- to break the ice," said Agrimbau. The newcomers from all over the world are able to bond and share stories of both their past lives and their new ones in Canada. They've published two volumes of their stories already, entitled The Past is Another Country. Proceeds from the $100-a-plate dinner will go toward publishing Volume Three. The dinner menu reflects the countries of the people in the program, said Agrimbau, an assistant manager at Hermanos helping to co-ordinate the event at Prairie 360.

"All the dishes are inspired by the hometown of people," said Agrimbau. "I'm quite thrilled about the dessert inspired by Guyana."

There will be live entertainment with South American samba dancers and African music performed by Congolese multi-instrumentalist Gentil Mis, whose lyrics have been published in a volume of The Past is Another Country. The books are available for free from the Winnipeg Public Library.

Red River College Creative Communications student Stephanie Thiessen, who sat in on the Finding Your Voice program, came up with the idea for the Jan. 8 fundraiser at Prairie 360.

She approached her former employer, Noel Bernier, who liked what he heard about Finding Your Voice.

"The ever-changing international mosaic is an integral part of Winnipeg's history," said Bernier. "This program is wonderful -- it keeps all those values and the spirit we have as Winnipeggers and communicates that to people who are new here: 'We are one open city and artistic and we value that,' " said the restaurateur.

"People come here wanting a better life and people here want them to have a better life."

For tickets, see http://www.prairie360.ca/fyv-360 or contact stephanie_thiessen@hotmail.com.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2013 A6

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