Persecution because of her sexual orientation is why 20-year-old Jahu Camara fled to Canada, in October 2015, from her homeland of Gambia. She was supported by the Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia (RRANS), a non-profit society that assists “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people” in need of refuge from throughout the world.
Jahu had finished high school and was taking an Information Technology course when she was warned to leave her small town. “Gambian people are good, but the government is the problem,” she explains. “You can get arrested in Gambia because of being gay. I don’t know how they know who is gay, but they know.”
“It was like a dream to me. I love it here.”
Without even alerting her family, Jahu took a nine-hour bus trip from her northwest African nation and snuck across the border to Senegal with only a birth certificate as ID. A friend came along who is now in Vancouver. Jahu stayed 11 months in Senegal, but because she didn’t speak French, she could not work. She was, however, protected by an organization that assists gay people from Gambia. With help from a popular Gambian journalist, who’d fled to the US, she contacted the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. That led her to the Canadian Embassy for an interview and eventual permission to come to Canada.
“It was like a dream to me. I love it here.” says Jahu, quickly adding that those feelings don’t include the weather. Her English is good as it is Gambia’s official language and she also speaks two local languages, Wolof and Mandinka.
After stopping in Paris and Toronto she arrived in Halifax to be welcomed by Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia (RRANS) members. She stayed temporarily at a member’s home and then moved to a west-end Halifax apartment she shares with a student.
James Boyle is one of many enthusiastic members of the Rainbow group. As executive-director of the Halifax Pop Explosion, he was anxious to do volunteer work beyond the music scene. “I thought it would be great to contribute to something to help people, to be part of something and to learn a lot about LGBT,” he says. “It’s been really interesting and eye opening.”
James says they knew they were sponsoring Jahu but were given only nine days’ notice of her arrival. “We found out when she found out.” The group had previously sponsored four gay men from Iran. “It’s been incredible to watch them learn English, how quickly they integrate and learn. It’s fun to create friendships, bonding over a common issue and learning about their countries.”
RRANS is sponsoring another Iranian who is in India, but the process has been slow as he wasn’t on the UN-sponsored list. James says the general community has offered overwhelming support. “People here understand that people are suffering harder than in Canada.”
Jahu competes weekly with Halifax City Soccer. At home she was on the National Under-17 team in a league with Sierra Leone and Algeria. She studies English for Academic Purposes at the Nova Scotia Community College with plans of getting her high school certificate and continuing in the IT field. “Five years from now I want to consider myself fully graduated as a computer engineer,” she declares with confidence.
Jahu is thankful to ISANS, where she took orientation classes, and to her support committee. “The Rainbow group is so kind and caring. They give me everything; there’s nothing more I can ask for.” She’s in touch with her parents and 11 siblings, but will visit Gambia only if the government changes. For now she is content. “Everything is just perfect here. I was going to move to Vancouver but when I came here I thought now I’m okay. I will love it here more. “