12 hour Overnight Shifts, Two Hours of Sleep, Then Helping African LGBTQ+ Refugees
by Wafa Yunis
Christopher Nkambe, an African LGBTQ+ refugee works 12 hour shifts as a cleaner to fund what she calls her passion. A passion that is also driven by 2 hours of sleep and the strong urge to help newcomer LGBTQ+ refugees from her community to receive the support she didn’t when she first arrived to Canada in the year 2019.
“I’m tired. I work from midnight to ten in the morning, 6 days a week. I come back here and rest for 2 hours or 1 hour 30 minutes, I wake up, refresh and start my work for the refuge centre. I took over the night shift because I want to concentrate on the organization.”
Nkambe started the African Centre for refugees just 4 months after she set foot in Canada. After experiencing persecution threats and discrimination for being apart of the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, Nkambe decided to move to leave everything behind to come to Canada, in hopes for a better life.
After being denied multiple grants and any possible funding from the government for a designated space for the centre, she decided to run it within the four walls of her studio apartment.
Sitting at her work desk, Nkambe points out at her bed just beside her adjacent to her work area and says, “You see, I sleep there and I work here, there’s not a lot of space, but so many people come here and I welcome them. I want to make them feel like they belong. They’re all like my family.”
The African refugee centre has helped over 1000 refugees to find housing, legal aid and free and accessible mental health therapy which is can be crucial for newly arrived LGBTQ+ refugees.
According to a report by the Community housing Canada, LGBTQI+ refugees are often victims of discrimination in sectors related to housing and employment. As most LGBTQI+ refugee claimants belong to racialized communities, they tend to face double the discrimination in these sectors.
Arriving in Canada is nowhere close to the end of their struggles, but it’s only just the beginning says Felix K, a volunteer at The African Centre for and refugee claimant from Uganda who arrived in Canada about 4 months ago. According to ‘Ontario Council of Agencies serving immigrants’ LGBTQI+ claimants must provide documentation to not only validate their threat from persecution in their home country but also evidence to validate their sexual identity, such as letters from past romantic partners confirming sexual relationships, letters from families and friends that justify their claim of risk of persecution.
“In my culture we don’t talk about sex to a stranger, but here you have a complete stranger with a completely different skin color [who] asks you to detail how you started sex and with whom, and the first time you lost your virginity” Felix adds recalling the time he had to discuss his case with his lawyer.
Felix K. recalls his first meeting with Nkambe at the African Centre for Refugees. He says Nkambe made him feel a sense of refuge and belonging in a new country. “There are days where I just feel like giving up, and on those days I have Christopher, and not a lot of people have Christopher, so I’m lucky.”
Nkambe has about 12 volunteers who work for the centre. With having received very minimal funding and using all of her wages on funding the operations of the centre, she believes that centre could not have reached where it is if not for them.
“I love them so much, they are the wings of the centre, the reach where I cannot reach, It’s not done by Chris alone, but by the team,” says Christopher Nkambe teary eyed.