Nkamany Kabamba spent years working with the child welfare system but recognized the need for family violence support for newcomers through his work as cultural broker and family violence specialist at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS).

Like many immigrants, Kabamba faced many obstacles to get to Canada. At 14, he was forced to leave his extended family behind to immigrate to the United States with his parents and siblings after the dictator of the Congo threatened to imprison his father for writing a book on malnutrition in the country.

At 32-years-old, he now uses his success to work directly with immigrant and refugee families, especially those dealing with child maltreatment, to be the support they need to become stronger as a family and succeed in Calgary.

“You want them to make a difference, you want them to be successful and you want them to move on from these experiences and strengthen the family,” says Kabamba.

Kabamba, who has a bachelor of psychology from Tulane University and a master’s in nonprofit management from the University of Florida, lived in the U.S. for 15 years before he decided to move to here with his Canadian wife.

Once he arrived, he found a job as a cultural broker at the CCIS, a nonprofit organization that offers settlement and integration support.

“These families come and everything is new to them — the language, how things operate — and they could be lost. It’s really to help them find some resources to be able to strengthen the family,” Kabamba explains.

With over 400 employees and a staff that speaks more than 62 languages, CCIS has the resources and programs to assist newcomer families with their settlement and integration processes.

The cultural brokerage program was established in Nov. 2014 when CCIS and children’s services saw the need for better cultural support — especially for immigrant families who have worked alongside children’s services. It is made up of nine cultural brokers, all of whom have their own specialized area of the world, Kabamba’s being Central and South Africa.

“These families come and everything is new to them – the language, how things operate – and they could be lost. It’s really to help them find some resources to be able to strengthen the family.” – Nkamany Kabamba

A cultural broker uses their remarkable multicultural knowledge to provide extra support for newcomer families, especially to address issues with child maltreatment. Often, this involves language support so cultural families can communicate clearly with children’s services and understand the complex system itself.

Amanda Koyama, manager of family and children’s services at CCIS, says the system recognized they needed to do better for newcomer families.

“The system asked for it. That has to be relevant because we didn’t just come in and say, ‘This is what needs to be done.’ The system said we need to do better,” says Koyama.

To work with a cultural broker, a family needs a referral from Calgary and Area Child and Family Services. However, cultural brokers are also able to work independently from children’s services if a family needs additional support and the concern is with settlement and immigration.

Kabamba explains his role is a bridge between children’s services and the cultural families they work with.

“Our role, in other words, is to have a space where they’re able to normally address allegations that have been reported; they feel comfortable enough that, if there were concerns on the cultural issues that are part of it, they could express themselves freely.”

Christine Dugal, associate director of Calgary Region Children’s Services, says the services are vital to the community.

“In Alberta, we take care of each other, our families, our neighbours and the people in our communities. Every child and every family does better surrounded by a strong, supportive community,” says Dugal.

Kabamba recalls his immigration to the U.S. as a teenager and the complications that came along with it and says that an organization like CCIS would have made the transition a lot smoother.

“I realized how scary of an experience it can be for somebody from children’s services to come knocking on your door and not know what they’re there for,” he says.

While working with CCIS, Kabamba began to realize the need for assistance for families who are experiencing family violence while also giving them cultural support.

“The services are there, but are they culturally appropriate? Are they culturally sensitive? That’s another question.”

This is where his role as family violence specialist comes in. This means educating families who have been in contact with children’s services on what exactly family violence means in Canada and the system’s expectations surrounding it.

“Depending on where you’re from in the world, you might not have the same definition of what family violence is,” says Kabamba. “Sometimes they could be speaking English but they don’t speak the same language [as you] in terms of what child protection is all about.”

Often, immigrant and refugee families only consider physical abuse as family violence, looking past neglect and sexual, emotional and financial abuse. With the additional support and education that cultural brokers provide, these families can learn to recognize the behaviours and stressors in order to end the violence.

Nkamany Kabamba (right) stands alongside his colleagues William Yimbo (left) and Noureddine Bouissoukrane (middle) at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society on Oct. 11, 2017. Together, they ensure everyone has the support and time for the self-care they need due to the emotional difficulty of their jobs. Photo by Karina Zapata.

Kim Ruse, executive director of Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, stresses the importance of this engagement. They are seeing more immigrant and refugee women at the shelter than they did in previous years.

“This issue is serious. People die,” says Ruse. “Most victims are women, but it is an issue that cannot be ended with just women engaged.”

“Engaging men who might be perpetrators and seeking help for themselves is also important. Even if a relationship ends, people re-partner, so you want to stop that continual perpetration and change that pattern,” she says.

Kabamba and Ruse admit it can be hard to raise awareness on such a sensitive, complex topic, but the difficulties, they say, are worth it to help families.

kzapata@cjournal.ca

Editor: Kate Paton | cpaton@cjournal.ca