'Guildford is like my village now,' says Congolese refugee who runs a tailor shop

Ask Mayor Doug McCallum to list his favourite parts of Surrey’s Guildford neighbourhood and it doesn’t take him long to get to the heart of the community — the mall.

Safari Kabumbe opened a successful business in Guildford and now he'd like to help another newcomer

Safari Kabumbe works on a new design at his shop in Surrey, B.C.'s Guildford neighbourhood. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Ask Mayor Doug McCallum to list off his favourite parts of Surrey's Guildford neighbourhood and it doesn't take him long to get to its core — the mall.

Guildford Town Centre has been a landmark since the mid 1960s and it underwent a $280-million facelift in 2013.

"It's one of the largest shopping centres in B.C., right in the heart of Guildford," McCallum said.

"When you go there, you meet people from all over Surrey who are doing shopping."

Just down the street from the mall, Safari Kabumbe is working on new designs for an African fashion in Surrey.

Kabumbe also loves Guildford Town Centre, but it's for another reason.

He says if he wasn't able to network at the mall, he might not be in business today.

Kabumbe shows off a dress he designed. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

'Plan from God'

Kabumbe fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa to Uganda more than a decade ago. In 2013, he came to Canada as a refugee.

A talented tailor and fashion designer by trade, he did his best to find work in his new hometown of Surrey.

"I started from scratch," he said.

"Nobody knew me, so I made a business card and went to the mall. If I see somebody, I give them a card."

Working out of his home, Kabumbe built up a clientele and moved into a storefront in Guildford in 2015.

"Guildford is like my village now," he said. "I came to Guildford. It's a plan from God."

Mayor Doug McCallum says Surrey is a model for all of Canada when it comes to diversity. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Giving back

Kabumbe is grateful he's been welcomed into Canada — so much so that he insists on expressing his gratitude before he brings up his suggestion for the Canadian government.

"I'd like for there to a program to help new immigrants who come with talent," he said.

"We need the government to start programs for people who come here with talent, but there's no way to use their talent to get a job."

He'd like to take on an immigrant or refugee as an apprentice although he isn't yet in a position to hire a new employee.

Kabumbe says if the government provided some kind of incentive, he could help newcomers start their own tailoring business.

"Trying to get a loan is a problem here," he said. "They don't trust you because you're new here."

Kabumbe says he tries to tell a story with every piece of clothing he designs. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Worldwide example

McCallum says it's inspiring to hear stories like Kabumbe's and he's proud of Guildford's diversity.

About half of the community's population are immigrants, according to the 2016 Census, above average for Surrey. 

"Guildford is very diverse with a large number of cultures there," McCallum said.

" I think Surrey is a model for all of Canada that we have so many different cultures that we welcome."

Surrey — Why We Live Here is a week-long series looking at the people and neighbourhoods that make up B.C.'s second largest city.

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