On acting locally...

Guest Post by Jan Kool

“Canada protects us. Canada feeds us. Canada covers us with blankets. We will protect Canada. We are Canadian.”

These words come from Muhammad Abkar, a Darfuri refugee who came to Canada in 2007, and who was recently part of a meeting between STAND Western and members of London’s local Sudanese population. This latest meeting – one in a series of meetings that began last December – was held at the home and gathering place of one of the many Sudanese refugees who have come to call London their new home.

Crowded onto couches in the living room, with a European football match playing on the small TV in the background, members of STAND Western heard harrowing personal testimony from those who had seen and lived firsthand the crisis in Darfur, some as recently as only three months ago. Much of the testimony had to be translated from Arabic into English as our media person scribbled notes furiously. Two and a half hours later, after several glasses of pineapple juice and numerous offers of coffee and tea, the meeting concluded with an earnest request:
“People like you [STAND]. We would like you to forward on our information [about the conflict in Sudan]. We need you to advertise for us.”

These are not helpless people. They are strong, proud, and intelligent. They understand the situation in Darfur better than anyone. They are also faced with enormous challenges here in Canada as they try to adapt to a new culture and way of life. Poverty is rife, it is tough to find jobs, and their children have difficulty adjusting to the Canadian curriculum. They are thankful to be here, but finding peace and good governance in their homeland is what they want most.

Muhammad, for example, has lost his father and brothers to the conflict. He still has many family members in refugee camps in Chad, Darfur, and South Sudan. He and his wife had their first child two months ago. Even before fatherhood, however, Muhammad was supporting 17 family members here and in Sudan.

Stories like this help us better understand the human cost of the conflict. Meeting local Sudanese and hearing their experiences firsthand allows us to realize the importance of what we are doing as student activists here in Canada.

These meetings have also led to a new STAND Western initiative that has gathered widespread support and attention on campus and in the community: an afterschool tutoring program for Sudanese and other children from London’s other refugee populations. With over forty excited volunteer tutors signed up and currently undergoing cultural awareness training, the program is set to launch in two locations, twice a week, in early March.

For STAND Western, meeting with London’s local Sudanese population has proven enormously enlightening and beneficial for both groups. Most major cities in Canada have their own refugee populations. We encourage all STAND chapters to reach out into their own communities and see what they can do locally to help. Once you have these personal stories, the advocacy part gets a whole lot easier.

1 comment:

BFine said...

Amazing stories. Tell me more.