Red Deer youth, seniors share immigration stories in community conversation

Drawing parallels between Canadian immigrants 70 years ago and refugees coming in today, a large group of seniors engaged in a conversation with Red Deer youth to kick off Seniors week.

A video showing the stories of immigrants who came to Canada during and after the Second World War played before the discussion at the Golden Circle Seniors Resource Centre on Monday.

It served as a backdrop to a conversation between youth and a group of about 70 to 80 seniors. Leading the discussion was a group that included Ursella Khan, who stood up to anti-immigration protesters at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, and her friends Amy Hordestad and Ola Zeinalabdin.

Zeinalabdin came to Canada a year ago after living in a refugee camp in Jordan for three years. Originally from Syria, she shared her experience and the welcoming embrace Canada accepted her with.

“We wanted to be safe,” she said. “In my first hour in Canada I saw just two words ‘welcome home.’ I felt we would be happy here. I explained to my dad what that means and he cried.”

She told the captivated audience about how she and her family lived for two years in Syria during the country’s civil war.

At night they would hear the fighting, said Zeinalabdin. Her father was arrested and held for five days and her uncle was arrested and held captive for a month. Another relative was arrested six years ago and her family still doesn’t know where he is today.

“It was heartbreaking when I saw him (uncle),” she said.

Several seniors who attended the event shared their stories of how they had faced intolerance when they arrived in Canada.

The comments also touched on fears of terrorism and the idea of personal safety. Zeinalabdin said she and her family just want to feel safe too and talked about how the Qu’ran is a peaceful book and terrorism doesn’t have a religion.

“We need to work together to make Red Deer, Canada and the world peaceful,” she said.

Jeremiah Ellis, who started the World Mosaic Project, a social media campaign combating xenophobia, also told the crowd that diversity is our greatest strength.

“It’s not just a Canadian value, but a universal value,” he said.

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