Winnipeg programs aim to steer young refugees away from gangs
Children from refugee families are at risk of getting involved with Winnipeg's gangs, but one former gang member says programs that help newcomers to Canada are helping kids steer clear of crime.
Mandela Kuet came to Canada from Sudan, but he says his family had trouble adapting and he struggled with school.
Kuet said gang life became attractive to him, as he was feeling isolated at the time.
But by the time he was 18 years old, he found himself facing numerous trafficking-related charges and two years behind bars.
"When they told me, 'You are facing trafficking [charges]," I didn't even know what the word trafficking meant," he told CBC News on Tuesday.
Now Kuet is studying at the University of Winnipeg and mentoring young refugees through after-school programs.
"Their parents are more involved in their lives, they have a lot more programs," he said.
"Before, I didn't have any of these after-school programs or anything like that. So there's a lot of things that keep them busy, you know? And it can go a long way.
Matthew Fast of Newcomers Employment and Education Development Services in Winnipeg, says there are several factors that put young refugees and newcomers at risk of getting involved with gangs, including school and family life and their peers.
"Lots of the former gang members that I've spoken to, that's kind of how they got involved … they were here, they didn't know any better, and someone just said, 'Come with us and hang out with us.' And slowly by slowly, they kind of get into gang life," he said.
Both Kuet and Fast said getting out of gangs requires a rude awakening.
"I can think of one young man who shared with me, you know, his best friend died kind of in his arms … and so for him, that was a turning point," said Fast.
Kuet said he had to make a decision about whether he should stay in the gang.
"If you stay in there, you know, either get killed or go and get deported," he said. "I was really seriously facing a lot of charges and I was facing a lot of time."