Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A community centre born of tragedy

  • Print

THREE times a week, the sound of children fills the downtown community centre of the Eritrean community.

Tutors work with children of refugee families, many of them who spent years in camps in Africa without formal schooling.

The program is one of several run by the Eritrean Community In Winnipeg Inc., which helps newcomers adjust to Canadian culture, language and life in Winnipeg. Immigrant communities often run similar programs, but the adoption of these programs was the direct result of a horrific and bloody tragedy -- the shooting death in August 2004 of 14-year-old Sirak "Shaggy" Okbazion, who had moved to Winnipeg with his family four years before.

"Everything we have done was a direct response to Sirak's death and how he came to die," Lambros Kyriakakos, president of the Eritrean centre, said.

The Okbazion family came to Winnipeg in 2000, sponsored by the First Mennonite Church. They were refugees from war-ravaged Eritrea, looking for a fresh start after years in a Kenyan refugee camp.

Rezene Okbazion, then 34, his wife, Hiriti, 30, and their two young children, Sirak, 10, and his sister, Segen, 4, lived in a small apartment off Logan Avenue.

Shaggy's life ended in the dark, early hours of Aug. 27, 2004 on Sherbrook Street -- and his family fell into a nightmare.

Police found his body beside a garbage bin on Sherbrook Street. He'd been shot and bled to death. Shaggy had fallen in with a group of teenage boys who were members of the Mad Cowz, a street gang fighting to control the drug trade in the downtown and West End. Shaggy wasn't a formal member of the Mad Cowz, but he hung out with them.

Kyriakakos said Shaggy's death shook the Eritrean and African communities to their core.

"Everybody was aware if it could happen (to the Okbazion family), it could happen to them. We didn't want it to happen again."

Kyriakakos said while western media are preoccupied with the wars that have ravaged many African countries, life in most African communities has a strong communal, social but conservative attitude, where all adults look out for the interests of everyone's children.

When they arrive in Winnipeg, they find their non-African neighbours don't want to know them and care little for their children.

The Eritrean group devised several programs to bridge this culture gap for both the parents and families, including English-language classes, driving lessons, support for single mothers and government and non-government resources.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2012 A4


Updated on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 9:01 AM CST: added photo

April 10, 2013 at 12:28 AM: corrects date of death to 2004

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Top 5: Famous facts about the Stanley Cup

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • KEN GIGLIOTTI  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / July 23 2009 - 090723 - Bart Kives story - Harry Lazarenko Annual River Bank Tour - receding water from summer rains and erosion  damage by flood  and ice  during spring flooding -  Red River , Lyndale Dr. damage to tree roots , river bank damage  , high water marks after 2009 Flood - POY
  • A young goose gobbles up grass at Fort Whyte Alive Monday morning- Young goslings are starting to show the markings of a adult geese-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 20– June 11, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Programs put in place by the local Eritrean community in response to the gang shooting death of 14-year-old Sirak "Shaggy" Okbazion in August 2004:

After-school tutoring

Family mentoring

Eritrean language and cultural awareness

Parenting classes

Free loan of traditional cooking utensils

Eritrean Artists Video project

Eritrean Photography project

Enhanced community social activities

  • Africa edition

    Africa is one complex and gloriously unmanageable 'theme' to choose to kick off our 2012 series, Our City Our World, which is why it took up the whole newspaper on Jan. 18.

  • China edition

    Hard-working Chinese immigrants, once banned, have risen to the highest echelons of Manitoba.

  • Germany edition

    German immigrants have played a surprisingly large role in the development of the province.

  • Iceland edition

    Arriving in Manitoba in the 1870s unprepared for a brutal winter, Icelandic settlers and their descendants have left their mark on our province.

  • Italy edition

    Industrious Italians rose from peasant roots and adapted to Canadian society by mastering L’art d’arrangiarsi (the art of getting by).

  • Latin America edition

    It used to be the only time Prairie folks met Spanish-speaking people was when they vacationed down south. More often now, they're the people next door.

  • Middle East edition

    When the first Middle East families immigrated to Manitoba, mosques were unheard of and even yogurt was exotic. But now all that has changed.

  • Philippines edition

    A booming Filipino community nearly 60,000 strong has transformed Manitoba.

  • South Asian edition

    As the city's Indo-Canadian population experiences dramatic growth, its pioneers recall their warm Winnipeg welcome.

  • Ukraine edition

    Scarred by Holodomor, the Ukrainian community helped shape Winnipeg's cultural mosaic.

  • United Kingdom edition

    Manitoba's history is built on a foundation provided by settlers from the U.K., who came here seeking better lives.


What do you think of the government's announcement that there will be no balanced provincial budet until 2018?

View Results

Ads by Google