Liberians Assata Cisse

Newest residents adjust to Cariboo life

Two households of Liberian women and children have been settling into a new life in Williams Lake.

If you think adjusting to the deep freeze of winter presently clutching the Cariboo is a challenge, imagine being one of two households of Liberian women and children that have been settling into a new life in Williams Lake.

Originally from Liberia, the families fled to the Ivory Coast more than a decade ago, but to separate areas of the country.

It was not until they arrived in the lakecity that the two families met each other.

One household is sponsored by the Williams Lake Refugee Sponsorship Group (WLRSG) and the other household by Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

The WLRSG sponsored family is made up of Helena Dickson and her adult daughter Maway and her daughter Patience, 14, — as well as Maway’s two daughters Faith, 12, and Regala, who is one and half years old.

Sacred Heart’s family consists of Assata Cisse, her daughter Assata Koneh and her two daughters — seven-year-old Aicha and three-year-old Charlotte and Assata Cisse’s niece Fanta, 14.

During separate interviews with the families at their apartment homes the women expressed anxieties about the fact they have arrived in Canada with a debt.

All of them will have to pay back the Canadian government for their flights, which amounts to about $2,000 for each person, and for medical exams they had before they left Ivory Coast to be admissible into Canada.

They can take a longer time to pay off the debts, but then their loans start to accrue interest.

Groups such as the Canadian Council for Refugees have called on the governments of Canada and Quebec to absorb the transportation expenses, but so far only some Syrian refugees have been given reprieve.

In light of the difficulties already faced by new immigrants to Canada in adapting to a new language, culture and economy, advocates for refugees across the country have said added financial burden placed on new Canadians by the immigrant loan program severely undermines the credibility of the program, as well as Canada’s commitment to the well-being of refugees generally.

Despite the debt hanging over their heads and the expected struggles of adapting to a foreign land, the four women said one of the highlights about coming to Canada has been the opportunity for them all to go to school.

Soon after they arrived in the lakecity, they began taking English language classes at the Immigrant and Mulitcultural Services Society (IMSS) Monday to Thursday mornings.

Teenagers Patience, Faith and Fanta are enrolled at Lake City Secondary School’s Columneetza campus and seven-year-old Aicha attends Marie Sharpe Elementary School.  Preschoolers Regala and Charlotte play in the mornings at IMSS with other children whose parents are studying English too.

Helena Dickson’s family

On a recent Friday afternoon, Helena Dickson was busy making a spicy soup in the kitchen at their apartment.   Maway was snuggled up on the couch and said she is finding it an adjustment because it is so cold.

The walls of their apartment are host to several bright paintings donated by local artists.  Regala was busy playing with toys, stopping intermittently to eat her lunch of chicken and a boiled potato.

Liberia is an English speaking country, but Ivory Coast is French speaking. As a result, Helena speaks English and Maway said she learned English when she attended school in Ivory Coast.  It is, however, the first time Helena has ever gone to school in her life.

Helena’s family are Christians and have been attending the Cariboo Community Church which meets at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Woodland Drive. She agreed that it will be easier when the church moves into its permanent space in the old Field’s store on Oliver Street because their apartment is not that far from downtown.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and Helena called out asking who was there?  With a burst of excitement, Patience and Faith came into the apartment, having arrived home from school.

The teens quickly ate a snack and then went out with local resident Harry Jennings who was helping them with a newspaper carrier route in their neighbourhood.

Assata Cisse’s family

Assata Cisse, like Helena, is going to school for the first time in her life and said it is important to know book learning.

“I am going very slowly,” she said of her progress at school. “My steps are small but I am trying my best.”

Her daughter Assata Koneh said she attended school in Ivory Coast for a while because it was free at the permanent refugee camp.

“I stopped going when it was no longer free,” she said.  After arriving in Williams Lake they learned that other Liberians have come to cities in Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba.

It is hoped they will have a visit from a Liberian family that is living in Kamloops soon, they said.

“We are only two Liberian families here in Williams Lake,” Assata Cisse added. “We all pray to God that more will come here.”

Their family is Muslim, but as there is no mosque in Williams Lake, they pray at home.

When she arrived home from school, Fanta said wants to try wrestling and basketball through school.

Their family will celebrate Christmas this year, the women said, noting they did in Africa. They hope to have a Christmas tree for the first time because in Canada they are free to celebrate as they wish, Assata Cisse said.

“Just like the day we learned we were coming to Canada,” Assata Koneh said. “We danced together because we were so happy.”

When asked about the snow, Assata Cisse said it is good.

“Let it fall down on me,” she added with a big grin.

Here are a few more photographs taken during the Tribune’s visits with the two families.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

CanSkate learn to skate program tailors to all

Williams Lake Skating Club head coach Joanne Macnair is excited to get… Continue reading

Letter: Should we reconsider bicycling safety?

Nowadays there are considerably more cyclists on the roads and incidences are sure to go up

RANCH MUSINGS: Humane livestock transportation: a measure of our care

It has been said that how we care for animals might just be a reflection of how we care for people

Casual Country 2020: Sister act

Sacred Heart Catholic Church bells donated by Alkali Lake Ranch owners in 1967

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

A (virtual) walk around the world by 88-year-old B.C. man

George Doi says it’s simple: ‘I like walking’

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Horgan, Wilkinson trade barbs over MSP premiums, health care at campaign stops

Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24 earlier this week

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

Most Read