Ubuntu in Fredericton: Somali newcomer keeps up an African tradition of helping others

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Yusuf Shire, 32, is originally from Somalia and came to New Brunsiwck in 2007. He is the president for the New Brunswick African Association. (CBC)

New Brunswick African Association helps hundreds of newcomers in the province

Yusuf Shire was at a work meeting in Fredericton when a newcomer from Burundi called. 

The man had just been held at gunpoint at his home on Gregg Court near the University of New Brunswick.

The caller’s voice trembled as he spoke to Shire in rapid sentences about what he and his roommates had just gone through. 

Without hanging up, Shire rushed a co-worker out the door and asked him for a drive to Gregg Court. The newcomer was no longer there, but Shire got permission from police to collect some of his belongings.

“I remember thinking his life could have been taken,” said the 32-year-old Shire, who is originally from Somalia.

When Shire found him, the man was in shock and alone in a hotel room, where police had taken him.

Like many New Brunswick newcomers from African countries, this man had known that Shire, the president of the New Brunswick African Association, would be the person to call for help.

Ubuntu

Shire is used to getting phone calls late at night or in the middle of a work day that require him to drop what he’s doing and, since he has no car, pay for a cab or ask a friend for a ride to where he’s needed. 

And Shire does so willingly every time.

When he left a Kenyan refugee camp for Canada in 2007, he carried a small bag of possessions and a big lesson.

It came from his grandparents when he was growing up in the camp: helping others always comes first.

Almost every day, Shire would see his grandparents bring orphaned kids to their shelter at the camp to eat.

“Without knowing these people, they were helping them,” said Shire. “They raised them as family.”

In Africa, he said, this philosophy of kindness is called ubuntu.

“Ubuntu means ‘I am, because we are.’ That is our culture. It is our way of life.”

Shire has a full-time job as a settlement worker at the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, and volunteers nights and weekends with the New Brunswick African Association.

Sometimes, the people who call him are victims of racist attacks who need him to be their interpreter with police or to follow up with reported incidents.

Other times, they need Shire to translate documents to English from Swahili or Somali or accompany them to apartment viewings and school appointments.

Every so often, the calls and emails come from a much greater distance, from Africans who want to know more about the quality of life in New Brunswick before they emigrate.

“I can take the load,” he said. “I do this for my community. That is ubuntu.”

Finding funding

The New Brunswick African Association was created in Fredericton in 1999.

Its headquarters are a tiny office in the Fredericton Intercultural Center with red tile floors, a desk, an old couch and colourful posters about the group tucked in a corner. 

The African Association is made up of nine volunteers, who organize anti-racism programs, soccer games and community food distribution and who help immigrants from African countries find housing and jobs.

Today, the association helps about 800 immigrants across the province. 

Once a year, the group receives a grant from the government to pay for a two-day event called AfroFest, which is hosted in different New Brunswick cities each year.

People throughout Canada come together during the event with dance, music, food and workshops on African culture.

“But the grassroots community work, those are the things that we have no support for from the government yet,” said Shire.

The group holds community fundraisers to help pay for its work.

“We put our time and sometimes our own money as we try to create programs and awareness regarding these issues, especially when it comes to racism and violent attacks in our community.”

Culled from CBC

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