The first thing 20-year-old Syrian refugee Ola Zeinalabdin read when she came to Canada were the words, “Welcome Home.”
These words brought joy to her after she spent the previous three years in Jordan after being forced out of her home in Syria.
Since then, Zeinalabdin has had the opportunity to have a safe home and to continue her studies at Lindsay Thurber High School. She has also had the opportunity to speak about her experiences at events like Canada 150 plus—an event put on by the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE).
“I’m here today to speak about my experience back home and here as well,” she said. “It’s important because I have to be strong and stand up to people and say what I have done and what I have seen.”
The event brought together a panel of speakers comprised of indigenous speakers Russel Burns and Charlene Burns, as well as newcomers to Canada Zeinalabdin and Filipino speaker Lyselle Rosario.
“Today we are celebrating Canada 150, but we are calling it Canada 150 plus,” CARE Public Awareness Coordinator Jan Underwood said. “The reason for that is that we wanted to acknowledge the history of indigenous peoples as well as newcomers to Canada.”
Underwood explained there are many similarities between new Canadians and indigenous peoples and it is important to celebrate both similarities and differences.
“It is good for newcomers to learn about indigenous history and also for people to learn about others and find commonalities,” Underwood said. “We have differences but there are things common between us. A person moving off a reserve and a person coming into a new country are facing some of the same challenges.”
CARE Public Awareness Coordinator Sadia Khan said safe, open and honest discussions like these are important for communities to have.
“Days like today are a great time for the people of Red Deer to come and have open discussions and really talk about what we are doing as a community,” Khan said. “With the people here today, we are hoping they will take this out into the community and have these discussions within their groups.”
Zeinalabdin was excited to be able to share the positive experience she has had since coming to Canada.
“I have had positive memories here in Canada,” she said. “I haven’t had any negative. Canadian people are all very nice. This is an amazing country and I am so glad to be here. I feel like I have the freedom here to talk. My voice has power.”
Khan hopes discussions like this one will spread throughout Central Alberta.
“Just because we are celebrating Canada 150 this year, doesn’t mean it needs to stop here,” she said. “It needs to keep going and happening everyday in our lives. We are focusing on similarities rather than difference. It is amazing to see how similar we all are.”
Zeinalabdin added, “I am very happy and I am so blessed to be in this amazing country. I love all Canadians and I appreciate all the service and everything they have done for Syrian refugees.”