African women's group creates community for 20 years
'When they are happy, we are happy. We rejoice with them,' says association president
A group of women are celebrating a milestone after holding their community together for two decades.
"I'm very proud and fulfilled," said Daphne Daisy Durling, president of the United African Canadian Women's Association.
The organization was founded by a handful of women in 1996, and celebrated its 20th anniversary Saturday in Halifax.
The women have long supported each other and still run programs about financial management, job searches, cultural awareness, among others. That support made a big difference to her own family, when they immigrated to Halifax from Sierra Leone in 2003, Durling said.
"It's like two cultures blending together," she said. "When they are happy, we are happy. We rejoice with them. When they're sad, we cry with them."
The group also runs a weekly children's cultural class, for which members collected donations Saturday at the 20th anniversary celebration.
"A lot of the children want to come but being new immigrants settling in here, they find it hard with transportation," Durling said.
Founding member Funmi Joseph saved a favourite photo for Saturday's celebration, which showed kids in one of the early classes. A few of them watched her presentation from the front row, now grown up and educated.
"They're going to say, Auntie Funmi, why you do that?" she told the packed room with a laugh.
The community built around the group has made a big difference in retaining immigrants of African descent in Nova Scotia, Joseph said.
Instead of moving to a bigger city with more people, people found family in Halifax in other newcomers and longtime African Nova Scotians.
"It's a beautiful place, although it takes a while to break in here because you're still called a come-from-away," she said.
'They will be there'
The similar cultural background has helped families navigate the challenging social environment, longtime member Felicia Eghan said. For example, when someone's applying for a job, everyone pitches in. When someone's having a baby, they hold a shower.
When she had back surgery, "my sisters came every time," Eghan said.
"When you have an issue, they will be there."
'A joy to see'
Children are "number one," Eghan said, so they've focused on education — from drumming, dancing and cooking to learning about fine dining etiquette.
"It affects their self-confidence," she said. "When they go and they know what to do, they fit in easily.... [If] they don't know, it makes them feel like they don't belong."
Connecting parents also helped if their children had trouble in school while "juggling two cultures," she said.
"We have come a long way, so I think it's a joy to see everyone here."