Big dreams. When you’re an immigrant moving to a new country in search of a better future, you pack those dreams into whatever suitcases you can reasonably take with you. You carry those dreams onto the airplane, and hope with all your might that the cards will fall in your favour, that saying farewell to everything you know will one day lead to the kind of life you wish to give yourself and your family. And when you land on new soil, you pray for a guardian angel to carry you into your new life.
Bienvenue Osee, a 22 year old immigrant from Democratic Republic of Congo, and his partners Blaise Kisembo and Baracka Mugisa, hope to fan some of those dreams and be that safe space for immigrants from their home continent.
Osee and his partners have a mission to help African youth integrate into their new Canadian home. Their notion of youth helping youth with this transition is fresh and hopeful – and a way of giving back for these young entrepreneurs. Noting that African immigrants and refugees are often members of low-income communities which leaves them vulnerable, marginalized and often disadvantaged, Osee and his partners want to do what they can to empower these individuals.
When Osee arrived in Canada as a 13 year old, French-speaking boy, there were many barriers he had to overcome to fit in and become a productive citizen of Surrey. Language was one. Understanding cultural norms, navigating transit, fitting into the school culture, making friends…these were all just the tip of the iceberg when it came to integration. It was difficult, but Osee was determined to see his family’s big dreams come to fruition. Now, he’d like to give his time to help others do the same.
“Many youth within this community segment are considered to be multi-barriered – not having the language, computer nor social skills coupled with the lack of Canadian work experience – to integrate smoothly into the mainstream Canadian society,” Osee explained. “These barriers ultimately prohibit immigrant and refugee youth from competing confidently for often scarce employment opportunities.” Being unable to compete in today’s job market leads to the perpetual cycle of poverty and vulnerability which Osee hopes to break with a new project.
The project addresses the lack of services and programs for African youth (ages 15-25) and would include: a space for new and recent immigrants to gather to have discussions about civic engagement, an area for learning computer skills, and volunteers who partner with youth to teach them about local culture and life skills like grocery shopping, using transit, preparing for job interviews, and applying for university. While some programs exist in Surrey for adults, Osee strongly believes that a society of youth helping youth gives this vulnerable age group a chance at connection.
Osee is hoping to partner with existing facilities like Surrey Parks & Recreation to offer discounted memberships for new immigrants. His project would also like to take youth to the Surrey Libraries and facilitate the process of getting a new library card.
What they are still looking for is a physical space, preferably in the City Central or Guildford area, where they can host a group of people who want to use computers, hold support groups and discussions and work with professionals on their computer skills and resumes. In addition, they are hoping that electronics stores or members of the public who have older computers would be willing to donate their used electronics.
While the focus is on African youth immigrants, the services would also be open to immigrants from other countries.
If you can help Osee and his partners further their initiative, or you are a recent or new immigrant youth to Surrey who could use some support, please contact Bienvenue Osee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-368-9228.