The local Sierra Leonean community sang with joy on July 9.
That day, the Sierra Leone Nationals Association of Manitoba (SALNAM) had the official grand opening for its new resource centre at 251 Henderson Hwy.
Mayor Sam Katz and Coun. Thomas Steen (East Kildonan-Elmwood) were in attendance for the ceremonies, while Concordia MLA Matt Wiebe dropped in a little later. The centre received approximately $27,000 in funding with help from the mayor.
SALNAM president Allieu Sesay said the group did offer resources for its community before the opening of the centre, but its reach was limited as it would rent space in halls and at universities for one-off events. He’s glad to have a permanent home in Elmwood.
"It’s a long time coming," he said. "Even if we can change the life of one kid and keep him off the street, then we’ve made a difference. We hope we can make some changes within our community and within Winnipeg at large."
For youth, the centre will offer a homework club, drop-in and after-school recreation programming, and mentorship programs. As well, adult literacy programs and basic skills workshops like employment readiness, work preparation, resume writing, and job search skills are also planned.
Sesay also noted cultural retention will play a major role in the centre’s direction. Sierra Leone is a country of about 5.6 million located in northwest Africa. It was originally colonized by Britain in the late 1700s, and was embroiled in civil war for approximately a decade until 2002.
"A lot of people don’t know the history of our country," he said. "In a facility like this, we can spread that knowledge to our youth."
Sesay said the centre has already received help from the community — the furniture used at the centre was donated by friends of the centre — and it will need to fundraise in order to sustain itself.
He hopes to see the centre gain a foothold, and perhaps expand its presence now that it has a flagship in the neighbourhood.
"Maybe down the road, we can get a bigger facility," he said. "We are very optimistic. We definitely know we can grow."
The centre will operate Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information, visit www.salnam.ca.