Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
A community centre born of tragedy
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
Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Photo Store Gallery
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:
Eritrean language and cultural awareness
Free loan of traditional cooking utensils
Eritrean Artists Video project
Eritrean Photography project
Enhanced community social activities
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.
Hard-working Chinese immigrants, once banned, have risen to the highest echelons of Manitoba.
German immigrants have played a surprisingly large role in the development of the province.
Arriving in Manitoba in the 1870s unprepared for a brutal winter, Icelandic settlers and their descendants have left their mark on our province.
Industrious Italians rose from peasant roots and adapted to Canadian society by mastering L’art d’arrangiarsi (the art of getting by).
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.
When the first Middle East families immigrated to Manitoba, mosques were unheard of and even yogurt was exotic. But now all that has changed.
A booming Filipino community nearly 60,000 strong has transformed Manitoba.
As the city's Indo-Canadian population experiences dramatic growth, its pioneers recall their warm Winnipeg welcome.
Scarred by Holodomor, the Ukrainian community helped shape Winnipeg's cultural mosaic.
Manitoba's history is built on a foundation provided by settlers from the U.K., who came here seeking better lives.
Ads by Google