Hundreds of South Sudanese Albertans are heading to Calgary this weekend to discuss how they can better help their community, which has been hit hard by a spate of deaths since the onset of COVID-19.
Garang Kuot, a Calgary community leader, said about 350 people from across the province will attend the South Sudanese Healing and Reconciliation Conference this weekend in southeast Calgary to discuss ways they can empower their community to address a variety of issues to tackle, including mental health issues. , drug abuse and violence.
“Enough is enough. Let’s sit down and talk,” Kuot said. “There are issues around mental health, issues around gun violence, issues around family disintegration, issues around homelessness, issues around unemployment, and a whole host of other things.”
There are approximately 18,000 people of South Sudanese descent living in Alberta. Kuot said many of that population immigrated to Canada amid a civil war in their northeast African home. He said the background had led to division and isolation within the community.
“By living like this, it’s only going to get worse,” said Kuot. “Because people have now realized that our current situation is not working, it is not sustainable.”
Dr. Mawien Akot, a leader of Edmonton’s South Sudanese community, said they have been losing two to three young people every month for the past few years due to a variety of issues. He said this weekend’s conference at the Glenmore Inn would be a chance to openly discuss issues such as trauma, fragmentation and how to integrate into the community with support. He said it would also give them a chance to bring forward decisions and get a better idea of the demographics that make up the community.
“Many of us ran away from Civil War and came to places like Calgary and Edmonton or other parts of the Western world. It was not out of fear for our lives, but to seek a better opportunity for the children,” said Akot. “Now we come here and we’re losing these kids, two to three every month as we speak.”
Akot said the conference will also allow the community to come together and leave divisions that started in their homeland back in South Sudan.
Kuot and Akot both said they expect a number of local politicians to attend and to be able to talk to them and let them know the community is hurting and needs help.
The conference is scheduled to last Saturday and Sunday.