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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Your human dignity is respected. That's the big difference in Canada'

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Harouna Samura

What stood out to Harouna Samura in Canada was people didn't look down on him, disrespect him or think he couldn't go to school.

Samura, 30, has a disability and walks with the help of two canes. He contracted polio when he was five in his native Sierra Leone, and faced endless discrimination.

"If you go to school (in Sierra Leone), you'd have to hop up the steps. If you can't make it, too bad," he said.

Samura came to Canada in 2004 and became a citizen in July 2011.

"Your human dignity is respected," he said. "That's the big difference in Canada."

Samura had no family and only one friend when he first arrived, and he said he was terrified,

"I took a leap of faith," he said, but adds he knew he'd have more opportunities in Canada as a disabled person than in his home country. He also knew he'd be safe.

Samura was a disability activist in his home country, but this didn't sit well with many people.

"I was a very easy target for people who wanted to hurt me," he said.

He was lucky because his parents sent him to school and he was able to get an education, but many don't have this chance, he said.

"Parents don't think you can be anybody. You're just a liability," Samura said.

Now, Samura is attending the University of Manitoba to become a social worker and works at the Immigrant Centre Manitoba, counselling newcomers and directing them to various services.

Once he graduates, he said he wants to continue advocating for people with disabilities. He's excited about the future, he said, especially now approaching his first official Canada Day.

"Being a Canadian isn't only about myself. If things are much better for me now, they'll be a lot better for my children in the future."

-- Jenny Ford

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 J5

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