Early in December I attended two events, just 24 hours apart, that defined for me what makes a city great: it’s a sense of safety, inclusion and opportunity for all.
That was the key message of a group of Syrian refugees, now one year in the country, who told of their experiences in a news conference at Welcome House, the new reception centre for newcomers operated by Immigrant Services Society of BC on land donated by the City of Vancouver.
Nearly one in five of the 3,000 Syrians who came to Vancouver have found work and half report that their children are doing well in school, although too many are still waiting for admission to English language programs.
But 21-year-old Eslam Al Abbas, who is working to become a pharmacist set the tone with her heartfelt thanks for the new feeling of security and opportunity she has discovered since arriving in Vancouver.
“Thanks from the bottom of my heart,” she said, “for giving us a new hope – and a new life.”
Adburahman Saeed said Vancouver and Canadians helped him relearn a word he had nearly forgotten in wartorn Syria: “love.” Wherever he went, he reported, Canadians were ready to help and assist him find his feet in this new country. He is still incredulous that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among those who welcomed his plane. He’s now back to using “love.”
It’s moving to hear these stories and hear, too, of the deep desire for many of these refugees to reunite their extended families here in the safety of Canada.
But that sense of inclusion can’t be taken for granted. Since the US election, Richmond has seen two incidents of racist posters distributed around the city.
Other unacceptable acts of intolerance and racial hatred have occurred elsewhere in Canada.
That’s why Mayor Gregor Robertson gathered the next day with a wide range of community leaders to pledge 101 Days of Action against Racism. This campaign will stretch from International Human Rights Day, which is celebrated Dec. 10, to March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racism.
You can see the pledge and sign it yourself at www.101days.ca.
It calls upon signatories to speak out against hate and discrimination in any form. in the period leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, 2017.
“One of Vancouver’s greatest strengths is our diversity, “Robertson said. “Over the course of the last year we have welcomed refugees from around the world, passed an Access Without Fear policy, and recommitted our efforts to being a City of Reconciliation, but there is more work to be done to ensure Vancouver is a safe and compassionate city for everyone.”
“The 101 Days of Action pledge demonstrates that we believe in shared values of equality, anti-racism, and freedom from injustice. Recent events around the world and close to home have left many of our loved ones feeling vulnerable, and hate can only be overcome when we stand in solidarity and empower each other to speak out—and call out—discrimination when we see it.”
I signed the pledge, along with four other councillors representatives of Al Jamia Masjid mosque, Battered Women’s Support Services, Gordon Neighbourhood House, Immigrant Services Society of B.C., Migrante B.C., Multifaith Action Society, Khalsa Diwan Society, and Out On Screen.
I hope you will sign, too. It’s a practical Christmas present to our community of a safer, more inclusive city.
In that spirit, I’d like to wish Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year to all my friends in the Filipino community.
By Geoff Meggs