A local organization did its part to recognize the plight of refugees during a recent event.
The United Nations reserved June 20 as a day to celebrate the courage of those who leave everything behind and move to an unknown place seeking a safer home, and to thank those who have opened their arms and homes to refugees.
The Liberian International Foundation for Equity took the opportunity to highlight the examples of many refugees who settled in Winnipeg at a World Refugee Day Celebration at Maples Collegiate in partnership with the Seven Oaks School Division.
LIFE is a local non-governmental organization established in February 2016 to care for orphans who lost their parents during the 2015 Ebola crisis that claimed up to 4,000 lives in Liberia. Since then, LIFE has been involved in providing financial aid for education to approximately 15 affected kids in the Dolo’s Town and Cotton Tree communities in Lower Margibi County, Liberia, through the support of Canadian partners.
Othello Wesee, founder of LIFE, said these events aim to promote awareness, especially among students who interact with refugee students daily. The celebration was the first held at the school division, and Wesee said many Canadian students approached him to get more involved and find ways to make refugee students feel welcome in their schools.
He also mentioned these refugee students already face a lot of trauma, having been forced to leave their homes, friends, and even relatives behind to find themselves having to speak a different language and dwell within a different culture.
"Most of the students don’t understand the refugees’ story. So they meet people, and they are friendly, but they don’t know their stories... so you don’t see a lot of interaction," Wesee continued. "I think we need to do something about it. The school division is very inclusive, but inclusiveness without education doesn’t go far."
The event featured three guest speakers who told their stories to illustrate their experience and show how moving to Canada offered a peaceful environment and also made a presentation about the conditions in which many asylum seekers live in before they arrive in a safe destination.
"The students were shocked," said Wesee, who has been working with SOSD for 10 years. "A student told me the presentation was an eye opener for her."
According to the UN, every 20 minutes people leave their homes to escape war, persecution, or terror. A refugee is someone who flees their home and country due to "well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion," according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention.
Refugees come from different countries that have distinct cultures. Once they arrive in Canada, they are bombarded with changes that can make a refugee student feel intimidated if they are not well supported by their peers.
"Classes should be having programs to welcome these students. They are trying to make friends," Wesee said. "But you can’t blame the people that are here, but if you see somebody alone go to them and say hi. Get out of your comfort zone."
"Refugees don’t want people to feel sorry for them. They need people to give them opportunities. I think these events are a way for people to realize ‘Oh, I can help in this direction.’"
All proceeds raised at the event will go toward building a library in the town of Karlokeh, Liberia.
Community journalist — The Times
Ligia Braidotti is the community journalist for The Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org