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Empathy in action: Culture shock gives way to community support for Health Care Aide alum

September 12, 2019

Saba Tesfamariam, Red River CollegeSaba Tesfamariam cares for the people you care about the most.

A graduate of Red River College’s Health Care Aide program, Tesfamariam works as a health care aide at Extendicare in Winnipeg, helping senior citizens live comfortable lives.

“As a health care aide, I help the residents with their daily living and activities, like cleaning them, bathing them and dressing them,” she says. “I love it. Helping people, I love to do that.”

Tesfamariam, 37, immigrated in 2013 from Asmara, Eritrea. Asmara is the capital and most populous city in the African country, which is located along the Red Sea and bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

“My husband heard from his friend that Red River College was the nicest college here and that it is acceptable everywhere,” Tesfamariam says.

“My husband encouraged me to attend English for Adults classes (at RRC’s Language Training Centre). I told my teacher I was interested in Health Care Aide because it is the shortest program and the requirement with my English level was easy to access. She gave me the details and after six months attending that English class, I got all the requirements, I got College access and then I took the program.”

Health Care Aide is a 20-week certificate program delivered at six RRC campuses. In the program, aspiring health care aides develop the skills they’ll need to assist clients with their physical, emotional and social needs.

Health Care Aide students also receive on-the-job training with six weeks of work placement in health care agencies.

“The way they taught us was very easy, very understandable. It was a very good course,” Tesfamariam says. “We did practice every other lesson, and the six-week practicum after you’re done (the program) was very helpful.”

For the practicum portion of the program, Tesfamariam was placed at Health Sciences Centre and Riverview Health Centre.

“I gained a lot of knowledge from that,” she says.

Tesfamariam has worked at Extendicare for three years now. A Toronto-based company, Extendicare operates long-term care facilities across Canada, with five locations in Winnipeg. Tesfamariam works at Extendicare Vista Park Lodge, located at 144 Novavista Dr.

She says the knowledge she gained at RRC is very applicable to her career.

“I use a lot of what I learned. It helps me to be successful and I’m very confident to do my job,” she says.

Tesfamariam has confidence now, but admits the transition from Africa to Winnipeg wasn’t easy.

“The weather was a challenge. When I was new in 2013, the winter was so cold,” she says. “But with the encouragement of my husband, I accessed everything. It was kind of a cultural shock, the weather, the language, the lifestyle, everything. But it’s OK now, I’m settled.”

Fortunately, Tesfamariam had a little help from her friends.

“I have lots of friends from my community, in my church community as well as my workplace. All of my coworkers are my friends, and I have good neighbours here too,” she says.

Tesfamariam now helps others to adjust to life in Winnipeg. She works with Entry Program, an orientation program for new immigrants offered by Altered Minds Inc, as a community interpreter for those who speak the Tigrignan language.

“I help them by providing information,” she says.

Tesfamariam says her life is going smoothly right now, and she credits the Health Care Aide program and the Language Training Centre for helping that happen.

“I’m so proud of the College, because they taught me the right way,” she says. “When you mention Red River College to an employer, they are willing to accept you and hire you. I’m so happy to have graduated from Red River College.”

Profile by Jared Story (Creative Communications, 2005)