They escaped war, persecution, poverty.
Now their dramatic stories about coming to Canada will be enacted on a Red Deer stage.
Real-life immigration experiences will be replayed in a theatrical production called Journeys of Hope. The locally written play will be shown at 7 p.m. on Oct. 1 at Red Deer College’s Welikoklad Event Centre in celebration of Alberta Culture Days.
The project, created with a $4,500 grant from Alberta Culture and Tourism, was initiated by the Central Alberta Refugee Centre in collaboration with local actors, directors, writers, visual artists, filmmakers, singers, dancers — and immigrants and refugees.
The scripted stories are based on the lives of Monybany Dau of Sudan, Zeljka Udovicic of Croatia, Asadolah Kheirandish of Afghanistan and Ethel Suarez and her daughter from Uruguay.
Jan Underwood, CARE’s public awareness co-ordinator, said she came up with the idea after realizing “there was a lot of talent in our immigration population that wasn’t being tapped into.” She also knew her clients’ stories are loaded with the kind of drama that makes for an engrossing stage production.
With the anti-immigration climate fanned by global terrorism and such personalities as U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, Underwood felt it timely to bring the subject before the public. “I’d like it to (help) form… an understanding of what people go through,” said Underwood — “and also to dispel myths about refugees.”
The project’s artistic director, Jason Steele, discovered many similarities between the refugees who arrived in Canada from a decade to nearly 40 years ago. Among the shared themes are a loss of childhood innocence, a separation from parents and family, and a struggle towards hope in a new land.
While Steele, who’s worked with Central Alberta Theatre, Ignition Films, and other local arts groups, was overseeing this 50-person production, he became immersed in international music and storytelling. “I learned so much” from the multicultural experience, said Steele that he would like Journeys of Hope to open other people’s minds as well.
“Other Canadians might be afraid to ask, ‘Where are you from?’” he added, “Or ‘What was your life like over there?’”
Dau, a former child soldier in Sudan, probably has the best known story of the five being told through four short acts in the 90-minute play. Snippets of Dau’s documentary Ladder of My Life, made by Red Deer’s Unveil Studio, will be used to tell his convoluted tale.
Born in south Sudan, Dau grew up amid a genocidal civil war. He volunteered to fight for the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army when he was 9 years old and eventually walked for six weeks to a refugee camp in famine-stricken Ethiopia. Before arriving in Canada, Dau and numerous other child soldiers were shipped to Cuba to get an education.
Dau’s son will be playing a younger version of his father in the play, said Underwood.
She noted all of the former refugees will have a role to play — although not all will be acting as themselves. For instance, Afghan rug weaver Kheirandish will be practising his craft on stage as his story is told. He will also read a poem in English, as well as his native tongue.
The production, about refugees learning to integrate from one culture to another, purposely relies on representatives from many Red Deer groups, because bringing people together is one of the goals, said Underwood.
There’s no admission charge, but donations will be taken towards covering the production’s costs.