Through the Sinkunia Community Development Organization (SCDO), Issa Kamara has translated a passion for helping his community in Sierra Leone into helping his adopted community of Edmonton.
Everyone in Kamara’s rural hometown supported him as he completed his bachelor’s degree. In 2000, he moved to Canada and completed a master’s degree in social work. In 2008, Kumara started Sinkunia as a way to return the support he had been given throughout his life. His hometown now boasts wells, a community garden, and a community ranch through his efforts.
In Edmonton, Sinkunia aids the successful settlement and integration of African immigrant youth and families. Working out of Eastwood School, Sinkunia offers an after-school program, a mentorship program, and anti-racism programming.
While immigrant children are no more likely to be involved in crime than their Canadian- born peers, they have four times higher of an incarceration rate. Kamara saw this inequity while he was completing his master’s degree. After founding Sinkunia, he began to work to change it.
“Many people see immigrant African children as black kids with hoodies,” said Kamara, who provides a variety of programs to help youth combat that perception.
The anti-racism African Youth Tell It Like It Is program works by “empowering immigrant kids to deal with racism in an appropriate manner,” he said.
While planning the program, he asked parents how they supported children who experienced racism. Although parents often took their concerns to teachers and principals, they felt their children were not being acknowledged or supported. Parents would end up telling their children “stand up for yourself and fight if you need to.”
Kamara knew there needed to be a better way. The program was “developed to change the mindset of fighting to defend oneself, to empower and give youth tools to deal with it (racism) appropriately, and create youth with resilience in the community.”
In the program, youth leaders talk to other youth, share strategies, and receive information from facilitators.
Sinkunia offers other programs to support African-Canadian youth. These include a partnership with the Compass Centre for Sexual Wellness and a local Nepalese group to teach sexual health strategies and provide information.
A partnership with the University of Alberta has university students spending 20 hours working with elementary, junior and senior high students at Eastwood School on Saturdays. School work help, social, and recreational activities are provided. Mentorship programs pair youth in a mentor/mentee relationship to provide support in making healthy life choices and leadership skills.
Kamara also has plans to offer a course on financial literacy for immigrants.
Community members can support the program by volunteering or by encouraging youth to attend. All immigrant youth from African countries are served by the programs, regardless of country or religion, although programs may soon open up to other immigrant populations.
More information is available at sinkuniacommunity.org
Header Image: Issa Kamara created Sinkunia as a way of returning the support he received from his community. Credit: Rebecca Lippiatt