Welcoming West Africans to West Slope
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Imagine moving to Mauritania, a West African nation, after being born in Glenwood Springs and living most of your life here.
Try to understand the difficulty of having to learn either French or Arabic while finding a place to live and a job to support yourself. Just finding a helping hand for guidance is not easy in a world of strangers.
Now reverse the situation and imagine a group of native Mauritanians in Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley, attempting to integrate into the culture.
“People don’t know about us,” said Mamadu Nian, a Mauritanian who has been in Glenwood Springs for five months. “To be in touch (with the community) and for people to know our concerns is one of our problems. Communication is difficult and without communication you can’t become part of the community.”
It’s an issue Nian is hoping will see some resolution in the near future. And he’s got the helping hand of Walter Gallacher.
Gallacher has become familiar with some in the West African community by teaching English as a second language at Colorado Mountain College. “Not only do they need help in understanding the language but there are a lot of other areas as well where they need assistance,” Gallacher said.
Recently, community members including Tom Ziemann of Catholic Charities and a handful of West African natives gathered at Colorado Mountain College’s Glenwood Springs Center to discuss establishing a community support team for African immigrants.
Phil Gazley of Lutheran Family Services said similiar programs have worked in Steamboat Springs and Silverthorne, where there alsoare growing populations of West Africans.
“This is really about embracing a certain population within a community and providing them the assistance to achieve independence,” Gazley said. “The important thing is that we do this together, as a community, so it helps the community.”
The community support “teams” are meant to help the West Africans with banking, health care and how to find what forms of assistance are available to immigrants. One of the challenges is to avoid providing help in the wrong areas, Gazley said.
“Often people of good will are eager to jump in and help without understanding what is really needed,” Gazley said. “We need to do what is right, so these people can become independent.”
Independence is something that Mauritania native Alassane Anne would like to have. Anne works at Wal-Mart and shares a two-bedroom apartment in Glenwood Springs with two others from Mauritania.
“Health care is an important issue for us,” Anne said. “If you don’t have that, it’s not a good thing.”
Anne said Wal-Mart provides health care benefits for him, but knowing exactly how to use them and how to make doctor’s appointments and how to get to the doctor are areas where he and his countrymen need help.
“The good thing about having a team is the people involved have flexibility,” Gazley said. “One may be able to provide transportation, one can help with learning English, another might be able to discuss housing or employment issues.”