Nisha Makeshi has spent most of her life in a refugee camp in Namibia.
“I really don’t know why my mom had to go to the camp. I was only five,” she said.
“Every time I asked her why we live in the camp or where the rest of family is – grandparents, aunt, etcetera – she wouldn’t tell me, she would just start crying and crying.”
The 22-year-old mother of two shared her story at the World Refugee Day celebration at Gaetz Memorial United Church in Red Deer on Saturday.
Makeshi made her way to Canada about a year and a half ago, but her mother is still in that camp.
“It’s painful … leaving my family behind. My two children are here and they sometimes miss their grandmother,” said Makeshi.
Makeshi said her experience in the camp was challenging – she recalled a time when she was trying to learn in school, but didn’t even have access to a pen or pencil.
Canada has treated her well, she added.
“Everywhere I find friends that have been so good to have. They help in every way,” she said.
Asdolah Khierandish, a former carpet weaver from Afghanistan and father of six, also shared his story with the dozens in attendance.
Mohamed Abubakar, one of the emcees of the World Refugee Day event, is originally from Sudan and has been in Canada for about 18 months.
“I came here as a refugee and I’ve lived as a refugee for almost 10 years,” he said.
“Most people don’t know what’s really happening in some other countries … so it’s nice to let people know what’s happening in the world and share our stories.”
Ola Zeinalabdin, a Syrian refugee, and the event’s other emcee, said she wants to help educate people about refugees.
“We aren’t here to take anyone’s job or business, we’re here to live and make this world better for us and them,” she said.
“People need to listen to individuals who had this kind of experience. When you speak to them about your experience, they will keep it. They will save it and they will always remember it.”
Jan Underwood, Central Alberta Refugee Effort public awareness co-ordinator, said it’s important to celebrate the refugees who have come to Red Deer.
“We’re celebrating the fact that they’re here, that they’re safe and we’re trying to give them a bit of a welcome to show them they’re valued,” she said, adding she hopes people understand they can take steps to help newcomers.
Angie Chinguwo, another CARE public awareness co-ordinator, said she hopes people learn from the stories told at the event.
“Today is about public awareness and education. We want people to understand the experience of refugees. Those preconceived notions some may have may change at the end of the day,” said Chinguwo.
“We are coming from different backgrounds, but we share the same future. If we work together, we can do more in our community.”