Calgary Cares: Charity EthioCare offers extra support for immigrants during COVID-19 crisis

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WATCH: For new immigrants to Calgary, not knowing the language or Canadian culture can be tough to deal with. Now there’s a worldwide health crisis on top of it all. So Calgary-based charity EthioCare is shifting its focus to help with the new challenges that have come with COVID-19. Lauren Pullen reports. – Apr 13, 2020

Imagine moving to an entirely new country, not knowing the language and suddenly finding yourself submerged in a strange new culture. Then, not long after arriving, a global health pandemic hits.

Now you’re in an unfamiliar place under unprecedented circumstances, with no idea how long they will last or where to go for help.

READ MORE: Calgary Cares: Soccer Without Boundaries takes on new challenge during COVID-19 crisis

They are struggles that are all too real for dozens of families new to Calgary; struggles that volunteers with the charity EthioCare have heard firsthand.

“Every day we are getting phone calls…10, 15, 25 phone calls,” said Bekele Hankebo, team lead with EthioCare.

“We found a huge [number] of people in need.”

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EthioCare started in 2018 as a non-profit to help new immigrants from east Africa transition to their new life in Canada. One of its main objectives is to help with any mental health issues that may arise along the way.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the charity expanded its services.

It now helps feed more than 50 families in the city’s east African community through food hampers. Volunteers also sourced out 65 donated desktop computers from Computer for Schools Alberta to give to kids who need them for online classes.

READ MORE: Program that provides computers to Alberta students in need says ‘demand has been relentless’

“They are waiting for us desperately,” Hankebo said. “Kids are at home at they have no computers at all.”

Every Friday night, the volunteer group takes over the airwaves of a Calgary-based radio station. The programming offers vital health information, the latest information from governments and outlines key new developments in the fight against COVID-19, all in their native language of Amharic.

And the group still remains focused on mental health, especially given our uncertain times.

READ MORE: COVID-19 pandemic taking toll on Canadians’ mental health: survey

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“Our fear is this is going to increase,” Hankebo said. So he  and his team of volunteers continue to source out support services for anyone experiencing extra anxiety, stress or other mental health concerns.

WATCH: Maintaining your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

While volunteers have shown unwavering support, offering their services for free everyday for the last month, funding for the expanded services has now dried up.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Calgary business collects 3,500 pounds of pet food, donations in 4 hours

Hankebo is reaching out for more grants, but in the meantime, the group won’t have the finances to continue offering food hampers for families in need.

Still, he and the other volunteers remain optimistic”We are hoping that we continue and that Calgarians are with us,” Hankebo said. “We are together in this [and] we can get through this.”

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