Our newcomers need jobs to be healthy

One immigrant’s story of dedication to community health and success through employment, volunteering and leaving old conflicts behind.

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On that day almost 20 years ago, when Amedeo Awai's immigration papers finally arrived, his two favourite words on the page were short and sweet: "new worker." But, as too many new immigrants, the reality was not so simple.

After fleeing the civil war in Sudan, Amedeo, his wife and four children spent 10 years in camps in Kenya and while on transit goes to attend college in Tanzania under a “Refugee Program”, before being accepted into Canada. He had been an agricultural educator and distribution manager, teaching farmers more efficient techniques and organizing crop storage and distribution. Here he did apple picking and manual labour in greenhouses, scrambling for any kind of work to support his family.

As he made connections in the immigrant service community, he become one of the founders of the Life Skills Support Program at the Cross Cultural Learner Centre, where newcomers learn to navigate practical details of Canadian life like how to use a bank, get to bus stops, find groceries, and access health care and other service providers.

The Health Centre is the "doctor's office" for the family, which now includes six children aged 10 to 30. "They provide both medical and other advises on social services," Amedeo explains.  "We’ve been loyal to them since those early days, 18 years ago; when they see us in need or lacking some of the winter coats for the kids, the Centre assisted."

His most recent passion is a homework-support program that the South-Sudanese Canadian Community Association runs at the Wolseley Barracks on Elizabeth Street side. "Too many of our youth are dropping out of high school. The parents value this after-school help, but transport is a problem as people live all over London with no car or extra bus money to get their children to the program."

Amedeo also volunteers with the African Federation of London South Sudanese Community Centre, because they all focus on jobs for immigrants, and, "they encourage people from different ethnic and religious groups to work together.” 

“The more we meet face-to-face, the more the old conflicts fall away.”

Amedeo was awarded a 10 year Ontario Volunteer Award for dedication in volunteer service in 2010. 

To whomever is listening, he says:  “It is better to let people work. Focus on that, and newcomers will be healthy and successful.”