Newcomer holiday party welcomes 600 immigrants and refugees to Winnipeg

December 8, 2019

By CBC News |

NEEDS holiday festivities important for immigrants, refugees who are thousands of kilometres from home
When Besma Salih moved to Winnipeg from Sudan three years ago, she had never heard of Santa Claus.

“He’s so cute. I always take a picture with him,” she laughed.

Originally from Eritrea, the Winnipegger is now one of 24 youth volunteers who helped organize a holiday party Saturday afternoon for the city’s new immigrant and refugee families.

“Back home, we didn’t [know] much about Christmas,” Salih said. “I remember my first Christmas here in Canada, I learned a lot — about Santa, the colours red and green.”

The party is put on by NEEDS — Newcomers Employment and Education Development Services. The organization provides support for immigrant and refugee children, youth, and their families, including after-school and employment programs.

“NEEDS is like home for me. When I was new, I didn’t speak English that well, so they helped me a lot in school,” said Salih.

The holiday party started nine years ago, hosting about 100 people in a school gymnasium. This year’s was the biggest yet, with 600 people attending the festivities at the Marlborough Hotel in downtown Winnipeg.

“It’s for everyone. They welcome a lot of cultures. Even if you don’t speak English, you can come and people will translate for you,” Salih said.

At the sign-up table, people were welcomed in more than 10 different languages, including Swahili, Kurdish and Arabic.

The event featured entertainment, face-painting, gingerbread decorating, and a visit from Santa, with each child going home with a gift.

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