When Dew Manyok arrived in Red Deer four years ago, she found it hard at first to get involved in the community.
Originally from Sudan, since age six Manyok had lived in refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.
“When I came to Red Deer, I didn’t know where to start,” said the statuesque beauty. The 29-year-old lives in Red Deer with her husband Andrew Atem.
She eventually found out about the Central Alberta Refugee Effort Committee (CARE) and the Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association (CAIWA), where she met friends and got involved.
A new program through CAIWA is trying to further improve Manyok and many other Central Albertan immigrants’ civic participation.
Named Stand Up to Be Counted, the eight-week class started in January, with 10 students — mostly from Africa and South America.
The program finished Saturday with a leadership session that drew around 25 people, with Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas speaking to the students.
The program received close to $50,000 in funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Organizers hope to continue the program in coming months, with a new group of students, who will meet for two hours once a week for eight weeks.
Laurie Carlson, program co-ordinator of Stand Up to Be Counted, has already seen the difference in her students, who drop by the office at 4818 50th Ave. in Red Deer to tell her the community activities they have become involved in.
She said the class has helped others find the services they need.
Manyok said the program has shown her where she can go if she needs help and who she should talk to. She said the program has also shown her how she can volunteer in the community.
Carlson said many of the students are from countries where civic participation isn’t encouraged or tolerated. She said while many Canadians take their democratic rights for granted, for many immigrants it’s a new experience and they’re not sure at first how to work it into their lives.
Halima Ali, executive director of CAIWA, said many newcomers first need to learn to communicate and then find a job, but it’s also important that they become involved in the community.
She said immigrants in Central Alberta need to be engaged socially through volunteer activities so that they have a network of people and politically so they know that their MPs and MLAs are there to represent them. She said they also need to be involved culturally, both learning about Canadian culture and sharing their own culture.
Ali said people need to sustain themselves and their families, but they also need to have a better life and part of that is getting involved in the community where they are living.
Manyok becomes more involved in Red Deer with each passing year.
After working with seniors through Catholic Social Services for the past four years, she recently became the co-ordinator of Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) through CAIWA. The program helps immigrant families, with Manyok doing home visits to teach parents how to teach their children.
“I like it. I like to help,” Manyok said. “It’s a good opportunity for kids to learn.”