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This article was published 1/6/2012 (2920 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Congolese refugee Chantal Alimasi came to Winnipeg as a child five years ago, she had a hard time in school.
"When I first started, I had a lot of trouble with math," recalls Alimasi. "I was scared. I didn't know anything about Canada."
That summer, she joined a new program started by a high school teacher trying to help kids like Alimasi catch up to their Canadian counterparts.
Now, she's in Grade 12 and mentors kids in the summer program that's entering its fourth year, has quadrupled in size and needs more money.
It began in 2008 when Grant Park High School teacher Paul Kambaja saw new refugee kids struggling in class and stepped up as a volunteer to help them catch up over the summer and stay out of the reach of street gang recruiters.
Congolese refugee Ciceron Biaya was 13 when he arrived in Winnipeg and was also in Kambaja's first summer-school program.
"He helped me very much with my math -- I understand it better," said the 17-year-old who lives downtown.
"My reading is better, too," added Biaya, who's in Grade 12 and planning to attend law school one day. This summer, he's volunteering as a mentor at the six-week, all-day summer program that's for building skills, not earning credits.
Kambaja, or "Mr. Paul" to the summer-program kids, rounded up classroom space in St. Boniface, tutors, volunteers and grants to get it off the ground. For the first time, he's putting on a fundraising dinner June 9 for program that's ballooned in size.
They have room and resources for 160 kids at Collège Louis-Riel this summer, 163 students who were in the program last summer and want to return and at least 47 new kids who've just arrived and should be in it, said Kambaja.
Some kids will have to be turned away this time, he said.
"The challenge we have is to tell their parents they can't come," said Kambaja.
He was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He moved to Canada in 1997, got an education degree and co-founded the Fondation Charité Congo-Canada to help fund the summer program, which also receives some government support.
Kambaja, who has kids of his own, coaches soccer, tutors after school and attends meetings during the week, is one of the summer program's teachers. It's staffed by university students, teaching assistants and Green Team youth and volunteers who provide transportation and cooking.
"I hope this new generation will take over," said Kambaja, looking to Biaya and Alimasi. "It's quite a lot."
Alimasi said the summer program saved her from struggling through a second school year. She was prepared for the courses she faced that fall, she said. "I got a B-plus in math the next year." Having Swahili-speaking Kambaja teaching the class helped when the lesson in English or French wasn't making sense, said the trilingual Alimasi, whose mother tongue is Swahili.
"He could explain it to me in my language," said the young woman who plans to go into nursing but might consider education.
Proceeds from the June 9 fundraising dinner will go toward the six-week summer program, a week at summer camp for up to 100 kids at the end of it and after-school programs during the school year for up to 300 kids in Winnipeg.
The keynote speaker is University of Manitoba's Dr. Francis Amara, founder and director of the Youth Biomedical Program and Inner City Science Centre. Amara said he'll be there because it's a good cause and may attract more kids from newcomer groups to his field.
"Inner-city and refugee kids are traditionally under-represented in the sciences and health professions education," he said.
For information or $50 tickets, contact email@example.com .
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
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