When Pastor Petro Sabengele first moved to Red Deer from Zambia in 2001 he immediately got involved with non-profit organizations, helping immigrants like himself settle into their new homeland.
It was something that came naturally to him. He had worked for six years as the director of a non-profit organization helping refugees to Zambia. He knew where the refugees were coming from — he had been a student fleeing his own homeland the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Now he is part of a group overseeing the Central Alberta African Centre, which just opened an office at 2 B 4909 48th Street, in downtown Red Deer to help immigrants in Central Alberta.
The centre was formed out of another group Sabengele was part of creating, the Central Alberta African Choir. The choir has been around for several years, but more recently members found other issues and concerns were brought to them.
People had problems with their landlords, trouble finding a place to stay or work issues and needed someone to help them.
Newcomers often even needed help trying to cook with ingredients that were different from their home country or help learning how to live in a culture that can be quite different from their homeland.
In 2008, the focus and name of the organization that oversees the choir changed to the Central Alberta African Centre. At first the group didn’t have an official office, with part of Sabengele’s basement serving as a temporary location. As demand grew, it became obvious an office was necessary and in August it opened.
Sabengele said the focus of the centre is settlement, education and multiculturalism. Some funding has come from local donors, with money being matched by Alberta Culture and Community Spirit.
Sabengele said he wants the centre to work together as partners with already existing organizations in the community that help immigrants.
“Our focus is the client. We need to work together as partners so we improve the lives of people in Central Alberta,” he said.
Asher Shiringinyai is the centre’s project director and he oversees the administrator, multicultural co-ordinator, settlement co-ordinator and eventually the education co-ordinator, as well as 15 volunteers who help the centre run.
Shiringinyai is originally from Zimbabwe, and moved to Red Deer from Toronto a few months ago. When he arrived he was helped by the centre and now he is looking forward to helping others.
The centre has programs for youth each Friday night from 4 to 7 p.m., with a meeting for women every second Saturday of the month and a meeting for men the last Saturday of the month. The meetings will give people a chance to discuss the culture around them and other issues or concerns they might have.
The grand opening celebration for the centre is set for Sept. 26 at Festival Hall at 4214 58th St., with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted to help run the centre. More information on the centre is available at www.caac1.ca