Immigrant group welcomes newcomers

By Geoff Lee

April 5, 2018 8:55 AM

Charles Balenga, executive director of Christian Immigrant Support Services, launched a self-published book titled 31 Essential Principles of Leadership during an open house at the Lloydminster Dream Forest on Mar. 22 where Wendy Plandowski, the entrepreneur in-residence acted as the moderator. Belanga is also organizing spring and summer camps for immigrant children at Southridge Community Church. GEOFF LEE LLS PHOTO

The newly formed Christian Immigrant Support Services based at Southridge Community Church winds up its first spring indoor camp for immigrant children today.
The three-day reading and writing camp attracted about 40 children from age 6 to 13 from new Canadian families in Lloydminster.
About 60-70 children are expected to enrol in a summer camp to upgrade basic education skills of young newcomers.
“Many immigrant children come from refugee camps; they come with a lower level (of education) than is required here, so we help them catch up in their studies,” said Charles Balenga, the organization’s executive director.
The camps held at the Southridge church run from 9 a.m. to noon.
“We will be playing basketball and we will have various speakers to speak on how to be a good citizen and how to socialize nicely and how to be a good person,” added Balenga.
The services from the centre are offered to people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds.
“We operate under Christian principles, but the services are offered for religious and non-religious faiths or no faith,” he explained.
Balenga emigrated from the Congo 21 years ago and launched the outreach program in Lloydminster on Feb. 6 after running a similar program for immigrant families in Edmonton since 2009.
There they offered many services, including oil and gas training for adults who wanted to work in oil and gas sector, as well as spring and summer learning camps for kids.
Balenga said there were people from 24 countries taking oil and gas training.
He said he got tired of commuting to the city from Lloyd and recognized there was a gap in immigrant services in Lloyd.
“When I did a needs assessment for support services here, I realized there was so much need,” he said.
“Apart from Catholic social services, there is not much for immigrants here.”
Balenga said Lloydminster is growing and he anticipates when the oil sector rebounds there will be more and more immigrants in our city.
“There are many immigrants finding Lloydminster to be just enough a big city that they don’t feel they are living in a small city, yet there’s still jobs here compared to other places,” he said.
Programming for adults will depend on securing funding, but they are doing a lot with what they have, with Southridge church giving them an office and access to their facilities.
“Hopefully, when people see what we offer, the government will be able to help,” said Balenga, who also welcomes support from businesses.
“As a community, we need to get ready to embrace other people and making sure we are building a community based on equality and based on opportunity for everyone who comes and makes this place their home.”
He said even at the individual level we can make an effort to be welcoming and more embracing of other cultures.
“I will do my part to building this community,” he said, including making public presentations on available support services to immigrants.
Balenga is a former pastor who said, “My passion is to see we build a strong united community, because I don’t want to be in Lloydminster feeling like I’m an isolated African.”
“I want to feel that Lloydminster, this is my home.”
He said he still does things to help Africa too, but this is his home, Canada is his country and he wants to participate fully in it.
Balenga is the author of two books, “Africa It’s Time” and “31 Essential Principles of Leadership” that he launched in Lloydminster on March 22 with ideas on how to build an inclusive community.
“We will be offering a multicultural celebration—you bring your culture into the general population and let’s celebrate it,” he said.
“Instead of isolating your culture and yourself, bring whatever you come with, so we can celebrate it together instead of being in a small ghetto.”
He said in Edmonton immigrants tended to only mix with their own people and he said that’s no way to build a country.
“To build a county, people have to participate,” he said.
“That also means at the city level and the hiring level, we need to be multicultural and include people in all that we do.”

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