It’s been almost two years since Ola Zeinalabdin moved to Red Deer as a Syrian refugee.
Zeinalabdin, 20, and her family left Syria five years ago, shortly after police stormed her house and arrested her uncle.
“We didn’t know where they were going with him. It was very scary for us,” said Zeinalabdin, a Grade 12 student at École Secondaire Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School.
When her father and grandfather tried to find out why her uncle arrested, the two of them were arrested as well. Not long another uncle of Zeinalabdin was arrested.
Zeinalabdin and her family then moved to Jordan, where they lived for three years. In late 2015, her family moved to Red Deer as refugees.
“I’m very proud to be here,” she said. “I will never forget my first moment in Canada; we arrived at the airport will all our stuff and our backpacks and we saw signs saying ‘Welcome home.’ It made me cry and I knew we would be all right.”
Zeinalabdin shared her story during the Canada 150+ Peace and Unity event at Festival Hall on Saturday, hosted by the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE) and Red Deer Native Friendship Society.
Having a platform to share her story meant the world to Zeinalabdin, she said.
“Canadian people are so nice and I know they all support me and I love them. They give me the opportunity to speak up and I’m so glad to be here today,” she said.
Zeinalabdin was one of four speakers who discussed what Canada 150, cultural integration and multiculturalism mean to them. There were also two Aboriginal speakers, and a speaker who immigrated from the Philippines.
Sadia Khan, with CARE and one of the event organizers, said discussing Canada’s history was a big focus.
“We’re really trying to showcase what Canada 150 is really about and see how many people know the reason we’re celebrating or even if we should be celebrating,” she said.
The event was all about learning, she added.
“We want them to feel comfortable and give them a safe space to learn more about a refugee who came from Syria or someone who knows all about the Indigenous history in Canada,” said Khan.
Jan Underwood, another event organizer with CARE, said at the end of the day, everybody is the same.
“We’re all together and all a part of Canada,” she said. “We’re looking for connections and to make people more understanding of others.”