By Esther Awotwe, 2nd year MDP student
These powerful words greeted me at the door when I first reported for my domestic field placement at the office of Gang Action Interagency Network (GAIN). GAIN is a grassroots community organization with about 25 partner agencies and organizations in Winnipeg dedicated to curbing gang violence in the city. The mission of GAIN is to collaborate community resources, consistently share service and awareness information, build strong relationships within agencies and the community in order to effectively administer gang prevention, intervention and exit strategies for gang involved youths. Gang related violence in Winnipeg is a reoccurring issue which is of great concern to GAIN and its partner organizations.
The city of Winnipeg in 2011 recorded an unprecedented high of 39 homicides with over one third of these crimes involving youths aged 14-24. Coming from an Indigenous development background these numbers were quite troubling and worrisome to me and instinctively the first question I asked myself was where did we fail as a society? What support systems are available for our youths who need help? Even if support was available, how has it been administered? Is it through labelling, ‘us’ versus ‘them’ or rather through a reciprocal system of love, mutuality and responsibility? As I began to delve deep into these initial thoughts during my orientation at GAIN, “Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin” the words that greeted me began to make sense to me. Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin originated from an Ojibway Elder and Ogijiita means the spirit of both a warrior and a provider of the community. Pimatiswin means “good life” and Kinimatwin means “to walk a good life”.
GAIN in collaboration with its partners seek to help the youth to reclaim their future through strategies and programs that seek to empower the youth to be brave warriors; people who are not afraid to confront the past, surmount all obstacles and build the necessarily skills to posses their bright futures. I was therefore excited to learn that I will be working on the mentorship component of the gang exit strategy. An arduous task I must say but I am excited to draw on the skills developed in the MDP Program and in my human resource degree to work on this exciting project. Communities that children grow up in do have a profound effect on the adults they become so it is imperative to create safe, enabling, peaceful and loving environments now for youths in order to enjoy violence free communities in the future.
Mentoring provides an opportunity for the youth to be role models and develop life skills that allow them to be positive citizens. An important aspect of adopting mentorship as a component of gang exit strategy is the socio-cultural identity it offers the youth; knowing who they are, where they come from and imbibing the cultural and social values of high self esteem, respect and reciprocity is crucial to the emotional strength that these youths require to lead the good life. I am excited to see how the mentorship component unfolds as I interact with all the various partners for this project.