Brandon refugees share their stories as city gears up to welome newcomers

More than 100 people gathered in Brandon on Friday at a workshop that aimed to help groups through the process of bringing Syrian refugees to the region.

Two refugees living in Brandon shared their stories with attendees

More than 100 people gathered at a Brandon, Man. church on Friday to learn more about the process of brining Syrian refugees to the region. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

More than 100 people gathered in Brandon on Friday at a workshop that aimed to help groups through the process of bringing Syrian refugees to the region. 

Westman Immigrant Services hosted the workshop with the help of a sponsorship training organization from New Market, Ontario. Officials went over the immigration process with attendees in a packed room at the McDiarmid Drive Alliance Church. 

Refugees share their stories 

It's a process two recent immigrants to Brandon know all too well. 

"Those people that are in the camps in Syria... they are in very difficult times," said Kaneguro Mbindo, 33, who moved to Brandon just one year ago after arriving in Winnipeg in 2012. 

He previously lived in Zambia after fleeing Congo in 2004. He was privately sponsored by his brother and now works at the Maple Leaf Foods plant in Brandon. 

Girma Balachew, 50, also works at that plant. He moved to Brandon in 2009 as a government-sponsored refugee after spending a staggering 18 years in a refugee camp in Kenya. 

"They [the camps] are very hot places... 45 to 50 degrees centigrade sometimes," he said. "It is very difficult to stay there."

"There is a lot of challenge," Balachew added. "People that want to kill each other, there is little food, sickness. Sometimes you are sleeping in a tent and a snake can bite you or a scorpion sometimes." 

Mbindo also spent time in a refugee camp.

"You feel like you are empty," he said. "You receive the food you eat. You don't like to eat [it] but you have to eat [it] because you don't have any choice." 

Both men said they can relate to what many Syrian refugees are facing now, fleeing their country and moving into packed camps with the hope of one day starting over in a new country. 

Both also commented on the long process it took for them to come to Canada from their respective countries. 

Culture shock among questions posed to Westman Immigrant Services

Those in attendance also received packages with information on how to deal with things like culture shock. 

"It really is phases," Wendy Petersen, manager of settlement programs at WIS, told the CBC on Thursday. "There is the honeymoon phase... and then a lot of that changes."

"They start to miss their homeland, miss their food... They can't find the same types of food that they could at home." 
Questions about housing and language have also been popular, according to Petersen. 

"I've been overwhelmed by the amount of people coming from the rural areas," she said. "It really speaks to the type of people we are here in Manitoba and how we want to help and want to make difference."

"I'm really impressed that the smaller communities are banding together."

Petersen said there are more rural participants registered than those from Brandon, a statistic she calls impressive.

Petersen said they don't yet have firm numbers as to how many refugees could settle in Brandon, but reiterated that they are prepared to offer services to however many arrive.  

Both Balachew and Mbindo said they feel fortunate to have been given the chance to move to Canada and hope to help new immigrants, from Syria or another country, adapt to the community. ​