Local club aims to make new African immigrants feel right at home
Whether it’s an offshoot of multiculturalism or a reactive remedy to a myriad of cultural issues that have surfaced of late, inclusivity is a big deal today. More and more, we’re seeing diversity in race, gender and orientation in most aspects of life from business opportunities to political representation. And while the change is hardly full-scale floodgate, at least the taps are turning in such a way that the movement is more than a steady trickle.
The shift might be a comfort to new immigrants trying to make sense of life in an adopted foreign country where everything from bus routes to local mannerisms double as a cultural tsunami they need to navigate while trying to settle down. Recognizing that in particular, most African arrivals lacked a support network to adjust to their new lives in St. Albert, Nigerian expatriate Helen Agbonison founded the Africans & African Descendant Friendship Club of St. Albert (AADFC) in 2019.
“The need was for people of African descent was to have a community of people where they could relate with in terms of cultural relationships and have something like a village,” she said.
“Back home you have your own village where you could do cultural things together. We’re all from different countries of Africa. And coming here to St. Albert, you find out that they don’t have any other siblings or family.”
Admittedly St. Albert’s African community isn’t huge, slightly larger than 800 citizens in a city of nearly 70,000, according to the AADFC. But in absence of a social hub, it’s a safe bet that life in this part of the Canadian prairies for former residents of a distant continent would be lonely at best.
The way Agbonison explains it, this proverbial village is a hub where long-settled and recently-arrived African citizens can get together to share their backgrounds and help others plot their life paths with the resources they need.
“Most times, when immigrants come over, they’re more concentrated on settling down and finding jobs,” added Agbonison. “They don’t find out about the things going on within and around St. Albert. So forming a community makes it possible for us to pass information around. The community helps us share information and look for ways of supporting each other.”
These days, the meeting places tend to be more virtual than in-the-flesh, thanks to government directives issued during the pandemic. But the response to the coronavirus hasn’t slowed down the itinerary of events that the AADFC hosts year-round. One day, members and other interested parties might find themselves entertained by an Ekombi dance troupe. On another occasion, they might learn how to cook koki beans, a Cameroon staple.
The AADFC doesn’t limit these events to culture. It also hold youth mentoring programs, career day campaigns and food drives geared to provide some relief to needy families. The club also facilitates a few outreach initiatives to provide information to St. Albert citizens otherwise unaware of such a relatively small ethnic community.
“We found out that there are lots of people in St. Albert who know very little about the African continent,” added Agbonison, “so as a community we’re also trying to teach people and let them know about all the cultures here in St. Albert.”
One sure way to spread that word while keeping its base enthralled is via Black History Month in February. While much of this year’s roster is unconfirmed at this writing, Agbonison said the club is planning to hold two movie nights during the month at the St. Albert Public Library, with a cultural showcase at the Arden Theatre Feb. 26, followed by the perennial Taste of Africa cuisine showcase tentatively slated for City Hall.
In 2020, the pandemic altered some of the plans, which resulted in the AADFC streaming many of its live events. The Taste of Africa attraction had to be relegated to the St. Albert United Church, where patrons had to drive to pick up their food. How the forthcoming installment will go depends on future actions taken by the municipal and provincial governments related to the pandemic. But to Agbonison, the AADFC will still find ways to ensure Black History Month and other events to uphold all the customs and traditions that Africans followed in their former homes.
“We each came with our individual African cultures and it’s difficult for you to preserve a culture individually, she said. “But as a group, it’s possible now for us to showcase something and actually preserve it.” t8n
Africans & African Descendant Friendship Club of St. Albert