Jan Underwood of CARE. (Contributed photo).

Refugees hope to share experiences, broaden perceptions at Red Deer celebration

World Refugee Day event held June 22 at Gaetz Memorial United Church

A 22-year-old woman who grew up in a refugee camp after fleeing a civil war in Congo is now upgrading her education at Red Deer College with the goal of becoming a nurse.

Nisha Makesi, who spent 18 years living in a camp in Namibia before coming to Canada, will be one of the success stories highlighted at a World Refugee Day event in Red Deer.

The idea behind the non-denominational celebration that’s being held at the Geatz United Church on June 22 is to share free ethnic food and entertainment with the community.

But it will also hopefully provide some food for thought, said Jan Underwood, a public awareness co-ordinator at the Central Alberta Refugee Effort.

Two guest speakers will be former refugees who will share their experiences and aspirations to show how they are contributing to their new homeland, said Angie Chinguwo, another public awareness co-ordinator at CARE.

Along with Makesi, Asdolah Khierandish, a former carpet weaver from Afghanistan and the father of six, will talk about his experiences — including enrolling in the social work program at Red Deer College.

Chinguwo, who hails from Zimbabwe, could tell her own story of striving to make a better life in Canada.

After obtaining asylum here, she completed a communications degree in Ontario and then worked as a community educator in Fort McMurray.

Chinguwo found the northern Alberta community diverse, with 18 languages spoken by people who moved there from all over the globe.

She did not personally encounter a negative attitude against refugees, but knows some people mistakenly think refugees are “taking our resources without contributing to the country.”

The idea behind World Refugee Day is to help people of different cultures “have conversations … so we can put aside our biases,” said Underwood.

While Canadians come from many different backgrounds, “we are heading into the same future. If we are united, we can accomplish more,” said Chinguwo.

The World Refugee Day celebration in Red Deer will feature a free dinner of ethnic food, including dishes from Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia.

Underwood said there will be kids’ activities and lively entertainment provided by Armenian singer-musician Hmayak Mikayelyan, Hassan Tahir of Iraq, and the Camaroon Dancers.

Everybody is welcome to the 4 to 7 p.m. event, with more information available from CARE’s Facebook page.

It’s presented by five local groups, including the Downtown Business Association, Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association and Catholic Social Services.


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