Although she speaks seven languages, Fabiene found it hard to talk and socialize with fellow students at Daniel McIntyre when she first came to Winnipeg as a newcomer from Congo in 2016.
“I was lonely. It’s a big school and everyone kept to themselves so I didn’t have any friends.”
All that changed when Fabiene began attending an after school mentorship program run by the African Communities of Manitoba Inc. (ACOMI) with support from United Way donors.
The program first began in response to the number of kids being recruited by gangs, says Joseph Fofanah, ACOMI Mentorship Coordinator and Intercultural Support worker at the Winnipeg School Division. Most of the students affected were from the African communities.
“Many of our youth have died and some are currently in prison because of alleged gang involvement.”
Now kids come to the program instead of hanging out on the streets, says Joseph. They get help improving grades and learning important life skills. At the same time, students are encouraged to honour and celebrate their heritage and cultures. “They can’t lose their cultural identity.”
About 150 students participate each year. Many come from other schools throughout the city – often traveling 30 to 45 minutes by bus to get to the program site.
For Fabiene, it’s meant new friends – many who speak the same language and come from the same country, and many others who come from different cultural backgrounds.
“We get help doing our homework. We socialize with people and speak our own language. And we get snacks too. After that, we spend time listening to our cultural music and dancing.”
The ability to stay connected to her roots has given Fabiene the confidence to meet new people, expand her horizons and embrace new opportunities in her adopted home.
Her experience is not uncommon, says Joseph. “You see someone who was very shy, and as they continue to come to the program, we start to see them talking more and engaging other participants in meaningful conversations as well as participating in various program activities. The shyness tends to gradually go away and their self-confidence increases.”
Most youth who’ve attended the program have gone on to university, Joseph says. “They see the value of education. Some even return to volunteer and share their personal experiences to inspire and motivate new participants.”
Now 18 and in grade 12, Fabiene plans to become a social worker. Recognized throughout the program for her leadership and volunteerism, she’s already well on her way to helping others achieve their potential.
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