Never Give Up
/ Author: Lisa Pranger
/ Categories: Guide magazine, Local 301 /
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Never Give Up

Eric Kangar’s life story helped prepare him for his life’s work— inspiring others to strive to do their best

ERIC WAS JUST A CHILD when his home country of Liberia began to unravel. He was born in the capital, Monrovia, and at first life was good. 

“My family was middle class,” says Eric. “My father worked for the government, and I went to school. My parents raised me well and brought me up in a Christian home.” 

Unlike its neighbours, Liberia was a fairly stable republic, established in 1847 by freed slaves from the US. But in 1980, the nation suffered its first coup. By 1989, it entered the first of two civil wars. By the time the guns were put down, 500,000 Liberians were dead, including Eric’s father, who was brutally killed by rebel soldiers. 

“My mom struggled with us six children during the war. Sometimes, we would go without food for the day. Sometimes, mom would come home with only a little bit for us to eat.” 

Today, Eric and over 100 of his fellow countrymen from Liberia are Local 301 members employed by Entrust Corp. and Entrust Adult Inc. in Edmonton. Eric exudes energy, joy, and enthusiasm for life—in spite of, or perhaps because of, what he and many of his co-workers endured in their home country in Africa. 

AS HARD AS LIFE WAS, Eric’s family was one of the lucky ones—they were able to stay in Monrovia. Many Liberians, including Eric’s now-wife, were displaced and forced to survive in refugee camps. 

“People endured rape. They saw people slaughtering other people. They saw many bodies lying on the street and dogs eating them. Many people are still traumatized by it.” 

Those in the camps hoped and waited for years for a chance to flee to America or Canada. 

Again, Eric was one of the lucky ones. Because he was able to finish high school and enrol in post-secondary education, he had the opportunity to leave Liberia behind and study in Charlotte, North Carolina. He packed his bags and headed across the ocean in 2006. While studying, he began to look for ways to remain in North America and, specifically, to come to Canada. He knew that his chances of coming here were greater than his chances of staying in the US after his student visa ran out. 

“When I was thinking of moving to Canada, some of my friends said, ‘What are you going to do there? It’s cold. Do they even have electricity in Canada?’ ” laughs Eric. “So I told them, ‘Get on the computer and do some research. Canada’s a developed nation, and it even supplies America with electricity.’ ”

 ERIC APPLIED FOR REFUGEE STATUS in Canada through an organization called Freedom Hearts. 

“When I got the news that I was going to be accepted, I was so excited,” he says. “The reception from the Canadian immigration and customs guys was so friendly. I felt relieved—I felt like I was in heaven. 

“I lived in Windsor for six months—that was in 2008— working on a turkey farm. But I only worked for two or three hours per day. I couldn’t keep doing that, so I started to research again, and I learned about the boom in Alberta. 

“I started saving my money, and then I took a bus for three days to get to Edmonton. Within a day or two, I got a job at a hotel cleaning 14 rooms per day.” 

Edmonton has a close-knit Liberian population of over 1,000 people, most of whom live in the same area of the city. Eric—outgoing and gregarious—fit right in to his new job and community. 

“I met a man who introduced me to my job at Entrust,” he says. “It was brilliant from the beginning. The boss is a very good man. He accepted everybody from all walks of life without discriminating. The people employed here are working hard to improve their lives.” 

Entrust employees help people with developmental disabilities. Entrust runs small group homes and also provides respite care. Over 60 percent of the 178 employees are from Liberia, and most of the others are from India. 

“Sometimes, it’s hard for us to adapt to life and work here, because we’re coming out of a war zone,” says Eric. “But we work to adapt and put ourselves in a better place to make a better life.”

In some ways, their background helps them empathize with their clients. 

“I work as a mentor to a group of guys,” says Eric. “I write programs for them, help them find jobs or daily activities. I take them to appointments. I have a good relationship with them. “I have a real passion for this job. I love it because I’m helping somebody. I’m inspiring somebody’s life, and I’m making a big difference for them. I often ask myself, if I was in that position, who would take care of me? Who would sacrifice to look after me?” 

Eric not only helps his clients, he also helps his co-workers by serving as a steward and on the bargaining committee. Because he understands where his co-workers are coming from, he is a strong liaison between them, the union, and the employer. 

ERIC NOT ONLY FOUND A JOB and a community he loves, but also the love of his life, his wife, Josephine. She is also the reason he was able to stay in Canada. 

After arriving in Canada, Eric’s initial refugee claim was denied, so he got a work permit and filed a humanitarian compassion claim. That was also denied. By then, Eric and Josephine were married. Because she was a citizen, she was able to sponsor Eric so he could file a claim for permanent residency. 

“On November 5, 2015, immigration called me to tell me that I was approved for permanent residency. My wife had to come with me because she filed for me.” 

Josephine had given birth to their son, Eric B. Kangar Jr., only two days earlier. 

“We have two girls and a boy,” says Eric. “They are the reason I struggle to provide them with the best of life. Our parents did it for us, so it’s time to reciprocate.” 

While Eric’s life in Canada is more than he could have hoped for, he has one sadness. He hasn’t been back to Liberia, or seen his family there, since he left nine years ago. 

“I want to take my kids back to Liberia to see their grandma,” says Eric. “She calls me sometimes on the phone. She talks to one of the little ones and asks, ‘Are you coming for grandma?’ Sometimes, I cry. I want my mom to be around today. I’m blessed because of her, because of the upbringing she gave me. One day, I want to bring my mom over here so that she can have some peace and enjoy a good life here too.” 

Eric’s journey has been one of always striving for better things for himself, his co-workers, and his family. He credits his mother’s hard work and faith for enabling him to come so far. 

“My mom always said, ‘The road to life is hard. But with strength and determination, you will get there. Never give up.’ It’s like climbing a mountain. Don’t look down or listen to people who try to discourage you. Put cotton in your ears and just keep on going. Keep on striving, because the sky is the limit.”

 

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