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Abel Chikanda Shows how Migrants Help Communities

Migrants to South Africa encounter obstacles to employment, so they create their own shops and businesses. That shop might be a stand along the road, Assistant Professor Abel Chikanda has discovered while working with the Southern African Migrant Program. The social geographer is currently instructing the group how to collect data that investigates how migrant entrepreneurs contribute positively to their community.  Chikanda has worked with the group for 15 years, before he left Zimbabwe to earn his doctoral degree at the University of Western Ontario.

The black population has grown to resent the migrants and zenophobia is on the rise, Chikanda said. He attributes this to assumptions about migrants based on negative portrayals in the media. “What immigrants do is publicized more than citizens,” he said.

By gathering information about the contributions such as job creation and participating in the local economy, Chikanda hopes to correct stereotypes and misconceptions.

Chikanda is also working with the Harare Cities Partnerships, comprised of seven partner cities: three in Africa, two in Asia, Mexico City and Kington, Jamaica. As people move to urban areas, the city population grows and as does the need to feed people. Chikanda has developed questions and helped administer the Harare Food Security Survey last summer when he was in Harare, Zimbabwe. He was surprised by the answers to the question where do people get their food. Many people grow their own food, which differed from other partner cities.

This semester Chikanda is teaching “Migration and Development in Africa.” His students have been surprised by the how the money migrants send home impacts development. In Zimbabwe more than $15 million has been sent back over the past 15 years. “If half of the migrants send $100 a month, that’s 10-20% of the GDP,” he said. He pointed to the contributions of newly formed hometown associations, which pool resources to finance development projects such as libraries or schools.

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