First generation Canadians from the African country of Eritrea are growing up with fear and worry due to the present dictatorship controlling the country.

The border is shut down, media is controlled and everyone is being forced into the army. The country lives in poverty and citizens have no right to freedom of speech.

With Eritrea being one of the youngest countries in the world, at only 27 years old, the country itself is facing growing pains. Those who pursed their dream of escaping for a better life flee to Sudan but the lucky few make it to Canada.

But what happens after they escape?

One Algonquin student, who requested anonymity due to a fear of reprisal against her family in Africa, told the Times how her parents escaped Eritrea in 1990 during the war but had to leave family behind. They both came to Canada, where she was later born.

Growing up, she recalls her parents getting phone calls asking for money because their family in Eritrea were being kidnapped for ransom.

“They would be calling us constantly in the middle of the night, like I need $10,000, I need $20,000,” she said. “I was in middle school; the shock factor goes away after awhile. That was my life.”

She goes to school full time and works two jobs and at the end of the day gives a portion of her pay cheque to support her family back in Eritrea. But in no way is she obligated to send money. She does it out of will and because that is her family, she said.

This is why first-generation Canadian-Eritreans grow up so fast. They have to cope with all this, plus their parents are dependent on their children to understand English.

“Growing up in Ottawa, my story was pretty different. No one really knew what Eritrea was in the first place. That definitely singled me out. But that’s okay because I kind of learned to love it,” the Eritrean student said. “I love my culture, like I don’t like what my parents have been through but I am using it to better myself. I appreciate them so much more.”

And yet, ransom phone calls and feeling out of place isn’t the only struggle these people must deal with. Mental health is a major problem.

The Eritrean community is private and most live in silence out of fear that if they speak out their family back home will be harmed. Family is the coping mechanism and some don’t get the professional help they need, turning to alcohol and sometimes even suicide.

This mental health crisis is mostly found in young Eritreans who have come to Canada in the last 10 years.

Even through all this struggle, first generation Canadian, Eritreans, always stick to their core values of family and tradition.