A Guildford-based organization dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants integrate into Canadian society is gearing up for a fundraising gala inside City Centre’s recently opened Civic Hotel on Oct. 26.
Called “A Night in the Serengeti,” the Umoja Operation Compassion Society-hosted event promises attendees an “evening in east Africa with exquisite cuisine, entertainment and silent auction.”
“We’re hoping to get about 130 people, mostly business people around the Surrey community, to really get them aware of what we do and the services we have and the benefits of them supporting us,” explained Umoja founder Amos Kambere.
The gala is the first large fundraiser the organization has ever done.
“We must thank the Civic Hotel for embracing our call and supporting us,” said Kambere.
Umoja is Kambere’s pride and joy. Since founding the charity in 2002, Kambere has worked with immigrants and refugees to help them adjust to their new life, something he experienced first-hand 25 years ago as an immigrant.
Today, based in Guildford at 14888 104th Ave., the agency serves roughly 500 families annually, with about 3,000 individual visits per year, and an estimated 7,000 “transportation actions.”
“So that’s picking them up for appointments, taking kids from school and bringing them here. Getting women to doctor’s appointments, making outreach to their homes, about 7,000 times (per year),” said Kambere.
Much of the charity’s programming centres on literacy and integration, geared toward women and youth.
But a new pilot program that is running for one year, thanks to funding from United Way, focuses on newcomer fathers.
“One of the things we realized over the years is we’re offering programs and we’re seeing the moms and kids coming,” said Kambere. “We realized the men are missing out on the programming. Especially when they come from home countries, they come as the head of families, they are breadwinners and their only focus is to work. Once they get to work, sometimes they have challenges they would have learned about if they had a program that was their own.”
The men’s programming focuses on literacy, and learning English, but also on practical things such as work safety law, and understanding the rules about how and when they should be paid.
“We discourage them from getting paid under the table,” Kambere explained. “Then they learn how to raise up a family, not leaving everything for the mom. We talk about parenting and supporting their wives.”
The program has been running for three months, and so far 25 men are coming out to the sessions. Outreach workers are also available through Umoja, if men need one-on-one support.
Meantime, building on its existing youth programs, Umoja launched a digital media program in recent years that aims to “get youth off the streets and engaged in the digital world.”
The program delves into everything from how to use cameras and computers, to understanding the dangers of technology.
“And there’s a mental health component in it,” added Kambere, “where we talk about depression and isolation. Once a week we bring a counsellor in and they talk about the issues.”
Kambere hopes the program will grow, with a new partnership allowing the agency to use Guildford Park Secondary’s gym.
All of this is in addition to Umoja’s core programming.
Kambere stressed what a “huge need” there is for newcomer support “because Surrey is receiving about 40 per cent of the immigrant population coming into B.C.”
“We take the highest percentage,” he noted. “The majority of them are ending up here in Guildford. Refugees, immigrants, and all other newcomers, they end up here. Most of them don’t have English as their first language, there’s a need for literacy, for language, and for integration in terms of looking for employment, settlement and housing.”
Kambere hopes those who attend the upcoming Oct. 26 gala leave with a real sense of what the organization does to help that community.
Tickets are $100 per person, or $700 per table. See more at umojagala.brownpapertickets.com.
Learn more about the charity at umojaoperation.ca.