By Jennifer Wesman : It is the season to celebrate community, culture, and diversity. On 18 December 2010, the 4th annual African Winter Cultural Celebration took place at Edmonds Community School in Burnaby. Every holiday season, REACH Multicultural Family Centre (MFC) sponsors this event for African and other refugee families living in the lower mainland. Approximately 200 people from all over the world came together to feast on a halal cuisine of traditional African and Middle Eastern food, cooked by the families who attended the event. Welcoming speeches were given by NDP MP Peter Julian; MP Bill Siksay; MLA Kathy Corrigan; Jennifer Wesman and Khayanga Wasike, Cross-Cultural Health Facilitators; Patricia Dabiri, MFC Program Manager; Madeline Boscoe, Executive Director of MFC; and Ros Salvador, a lawyer with the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Speeches and dinner with followed with an evening of stories, drumming, and dancing.
African storyteller Jean-Pierre Makosso shared traditional stories with a twist, dancers Kesseke Yeo and Yoro Noukoussi got people moving on the dance floor, and the Togolese ensemble shared rhythms that reflect the heartbeat of life. Children and adults danced in to the night with DJ Bakumba, and at the end of the evening each family was given a gift bag full of donated gift items. Local business, organizations, and individuals contributed items to the gift bags.
The celebration was organized by Jennifer Wesman and Khayanga Wasike, both Cross-Cultural Health Promoters with REACH MFC. The MFC is a program of REACH Community Health Centre, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing culturally relevant programs and services to assist immigrant and refugees in Metro Vancouver.
Hard working and committed volunteers from MFC also contributed their time to the event. Volunteer Erin Catho says she got involved with the Celebration because “it is a unique family-oriented event that is not about the commercialization of the holidays, but rather celebrates the fabric of community culture, spirit, and place.” REACH MFC’s Khayanga Wasike, who returned from her native Kenya only a few days prior to the event, says the evening “reminded her of home” and was surprised to see how the event’s popularity had grown since 2007. As an immigrant herself, and a community worker in health, settlement, and integration, Khayanga is aware of the challenges faced by immigrants upon coming to Canada, especially refugee families. Such challenges include literacy barriers, low incomes and non-recognition of credentials, immigration processing times, the requirement to repay the transportation loan to CIC for government assisted refugees, and ongoing discrimination and isolation.
Khayanga believes we can all work together to address these barriers by supporting immigrant and refugee families through advocacy and volunteering. Khayanga and Jennifer Wesman organize a weekly program that provides individual and group services to immigrant and refugee women from Africa and Middle Eastern countries. This program uses a bridging model that engages staff and volunteers to act as a bridge between “mainstream” Canadian culture and the cultures of the participants. it is a linguistically and culturally appropriate program that addresses topics of health, wellness, life skills, and literacy.
Anyone who would like to join this program or become a volunteer in it is urged to call REACH MFC at 604-254-6468 or visit Khayanga at her office at 1145 Commercial Drive, Vancouver. The organizers thank the volunteers, cooks, performers, Vancity and other sponsoring businesses, and all the women and families who gave their time, talents, and energy to make the 2010 African Winter Cultural Celebration the biggest and most successful one to date! Afro News is a proud supporter of this event.