After moving to Ontario from her hometown of Winnipeg, Anne Mahon discovered firsthand how hard it can be to acclimatize and make connections in a new city. And after meeting a man who came to Canada from Sudan, Africa, she thought: How difficult must it be to leave your friends, family, language and country behind to move to a foreign land?
Mahon eventually left Ontario and returned home to Winnipeg after finding that the old saying rings true: You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
"I realized that I really love Winnipeg," Mahon said. "I never used to go to Folklorama or anything like that, but being in the city in Ontario that I was in, which was very ‘white bread’, I realized just how much I loved the cultural mosaic of Winnipeg."
After forming a close friendship with an immigrant from Sudan, Mahon says she simply knew that getting involved with the African community in Winnipeg was something that was important to her.
"I started thinking about how hard I found it living in Ontario, where I could speak the language, and the roads were the same as in Winnipeg," Mahon said. "What is is like to come here from somewhere like Africa?"
Mahon is on the board of Humankind International, an organization that is working to build a school in Somalia for refugees.
"In Somalia, school begins at around age eight," Mahon said. "We plan to target five, six, seven-year-olds, give them a half day in the classroom so that they can have some early learning tools when they go on to primary school."
Currently, Humankind International is in the process of raising funds to get the school built, and developing the curriculum and programming.
Mahon is also in the final stages of completing a book she started five years ago, which will tell the stories of over 15 African immigrants who have found a home in Winnipeg. While all of the immigrants in the book have an interesting story to tell, Mahon said the one that stuck with her most was that of Muuxi Adam, one of the founders of Humankind International.
"Muuxi was left by a handler at a bus station next to the University of Winnipeg. He didn’t speak English, had no money, and at age 16, that was how he started his life in Winnipeg," Mahon said. "Now he’s a student at the U of W, works full time and is the most hope-filled, charismatic person."
Mahon said she currently has two publishers interested in the book, and is hoping for a 2012 release, but possibly 2013. Mahon will donate all funds from the sale of her book to a Winnipeg Foundation endowment fund that will offer post secondary scholarships to the African community in Winnipeg, as well as small business micro-lending.
Mahon also is a classroom volunteer at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), helping with the Newcomer Literacy Initiative.
"Even though I don’t speak their language and they’re working on their English, we just have the best exchanges together," Mahon said.
"Any service or volunteering that I’ve given along the way, I’ve been incredibly enhanced by the interaction with my African friends. Their sense of humour, and appreciation for who I am has taught me a lot about human nature, and I’m grateful for being able to have found my way in getting to know so many incredible people."