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Red Deer's newest youths tell their stories

The stories are of war, poverty, separation and fear.

The stories are of peace, opportunity, reacquaintances and excitement.

And the stories are of bewilderment at why people choose to live in a place where winter weather warrants winces.

The stories, the 16 found in Steps Along Our Journey, are the accounts of some of the newest Red Deerians, youth who came from far away countries and are establishing new lives in Canada.

One of those stories belongs to Martha Gatluak, 18, who woke up one day in Sudan to find a tragedy that would uproot her family and eventually lead her to the Canadian prairie.

The Notre Dame High School student did not even know Canada existed when a man was found dead in her family’s backyard in her home country one morning. When fellow villagers subsequently accused her family of killing the man, Gatluak’s mother fled on foot with her two children.

The trio walked all the way to Kenya, where they lived in refugee housing for four years. When it finally came time to come to Canada in 2010, Gatluak, was thrilled.

“I was so happy because I really wanted to go to school. That was the one thing I was hoping on, and when we got here I was so happy,” she said.

But there were struggles still in Canada. Being unfamiliar with the language and without friends, life at the beginning was very lonely.

But now, with friends and better language skills, she is hopeful for a future in which she hopes to become a nurse.

“I feel good. I feel like I could do anything right here now,” expressed Gatluak.

For Hector Jordan Ortiz, maintaining the culture of his home country of Mexico is important. The 17-year-old is part of the small Mexican community in Red Deer, but he will not let his heritage define him.

“We are in Canada now. We have to be Canadian. We have to speak English. We have to keep our culture, but you have to be open to learn more about Canada, about more people,” he said.

The stories of Jordan Ortiz, Gatluak, and 14 other local immigrant youth are compiled in Steps Along Our Journey, a book put out by the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE). The book is available for $25 through CARE.

“I’m really proud of us,” explained Jordan Ortiz, “because it’s not easy to talk about ourselves and our stories. You want to show how your feelings were when you came here. We want to tell the story that it’s not easy to have that change.”

The youth worked for months on the book project, and CARE. settlement practitioner Rachel Pinno hopes locals read the youths’ stories.

“I hope it will get them to know their neighbours. We can learn so much from their cultures and from their lives and in turn we have so much to offer them as we can share about Canadian culture and help them adjust,” she said.



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