As newcomers to Brandon navigate challenges, solutions are 'in the works'

By: Abiola Odutola. Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. For the Brandon Sun

The path to a new life can be faced with challenges and triumphs. For newcomers to Brandon, the challenges are diverse — including access to health care, transportation, employment and the weather — and the triumphs are often hard-won. However, the resilience and dedication of these newcomers is often a testament to the strength of the human spirit in overcoming adversity.

Transportation

Public transportation is a lifeline for many newcomers, but it is also a source of frustration to them,” Sardar Patel Cultural Group (Brandon) team member Keval Kumar told the Sun. “There are not enough buses in Brandon and this waiting game can be challenging, especially when appointments, lectures or jobs are on the line.”

United Brandon Nigeria Association representative Abi Obafemi says many newcomers end up in low-paying "survivor" jobs. (Abiola Odutola/The Brandon Sun)

Kumar said that several newcomers also struggle to obtain a driver’s licence due to the language barrier, which has led to many failing their driving tests. According to him, most of them passed the knowledge test but had issues with communication during road tests.

Health Care

The health card application and delivery process can create financial burdens and distress for newcomers, permanent resident Mary Omole told the Sun.

“I had to secure travel insurance coverage for my son to facilitate his enrolment in a daycare, which cost me $100 while waiting for our health cards.”

Another newcomer, who is originally from India and preferred to remain anonymous, explained that the delay in health card processing has been a significant obstacle for him.

“I’m paying about $900 which is too expensive for me because I have not gotten a job since May 2023 when I arrived in Brandon.”

Jobs

United Brandon Nigeria Association representative Abi Obafemi said that finding meaningful employment is a shared aspiration among newcomers, but that many of them end up in lower-paying “survival jobs.”

“I have interacted with some of them and found that they failed to do necessary research about types of jobs available in Brandon before they applied for permanent residency and after few efforts, they gave in for anything that comes their way,” the lawyer told the Sun. “If they had done their findings properly before arriving in Brandon, it would have been easier to settle in.”

Obafemi said that UBNA receives many employment-related requests and arranges sessions to help newcomers in getting work.

“Brandon is filled with several job opportunities,” he said. “All immigrants need to do is to have strategic plans on how they can integrate into the community. Organizations like Westman Immigrant Services are also doing great jobs in helping people of other nationalities settle in.”

Like Obafemi, Kumar said that these challenges not only affect their economic well-being but also limit their ability to fully integrate into the community and partake in cultural events.

Local Challenges

Weather can also be a major hurdle for newcomers to Brandon, said Obafemi, particularly those coming from warmer climates who are unaccustomed to snow and rain. However, language can also be a barrier to success for some.

“We have different training programs to kind of help people with their accent,” Westman Immigrant Services Community Outreach manager Hannah Stollery told the Sun. “These programs guide newcomers on presenting themselves in interviews, writing cover letters, and navigating the Canadian job market.”

Stollery explained that the language barrier is a central theme in many of the challenges newcomers face and WIS offers English classes for newcomers so they can interact, find jobs and thrive in the community.

Understanding the housing market and tenant-landlord relations can be complicated, especially when language barriers come into play. We help newcomers find housing, facilitate interactions with landlords, and provide interpretation services when needed,” she said, adding that it’s important that newcomers know their rights as tenants.

WIS chief executive officer Enver Naidoo emphasized that one of the significant challenges is the situation where “many immigrants and newcomers are over-skilled and underemployed.”

“This issue applies to both regulated and non-regulated internationally experienced professionals arriving with valuable skills and experiences that employers need,” Naidoo said. “This situation is not unique to Brandon; it exists in many areas which is why WIS proactively launched the Rural Manitoba Immigrant Employment Council to help employers attract, hire, and retain immigrant talent.”

Local Solutions

As part of a national network, RMIEC can access best practices, education and practical tools to help employers better connect with immigrant and newcomer talent.

While the challenges are evident, Brandon Mayor Jeff Fawcett said that there are solutions in the works. He admitted that the current transportation system in Brandon isn’t as efficient as it could be. One of the city’s councillors, he said, was taking the bus once a week to get to his workplace and found that a 10-minute drive was about a 45-minute ride on the bus.

“We do have some funding that came in from the federal government that is going to help us look at our transit system and how we can make improvements on it,” Fawcett told the Sun. “A few hundreds of thousands of dollars came in and it’s just to do the review and not an implementation. We are very conscious of making all kinds of transit more efficient so that it becomes a viable option to get people to and from places in a good time.”

He added that the city, Chamber of Commerce and WIS work very closely together to make sure that more people are employed and to break language barriers.

Fawcett said that efforts to create a welcoming and inclusive community need to extend beyond just transportation.

“We really value the new population that comes to Brandon. There is a conscious effort to make sure everybody feels a part of our community the best we can. I hope that the rest of the community continues to do its share to make sure everybody feels comfortable and welcome here as well.”

» aodutola@brandonsun.com

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