A recent research project examines life challenges for people of colour in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
On Saturday, April 17, 2021, Promise of Home presented some of the films linked to their research. The online event was a showcase of the work of the student participants in the endeavour.
Saint Thomas University Sociology Professor Gül Çalışkan is the research lead for the project, which also involves a partnership with the City of Fredericton. The project activities are funded by the New Brunswick Innovation Fund.
“What makes Fredericton home for you?” is one of the cornerstone questions for the venture which eventually aims to make the city more inclusive and to assist is shaping policy suggestions for the city.
In this community development narrative undertaking, the stories are told through writing, poetry, spoken word and video. Phase 1, “Immigrant youth narratives,” includes the work of various outspoken students who attended workshops to develop their stories.
Workshops were led by Fredericton-based Guyanese author and educator Anthazia Kadir, who was a co-editor of the chapbook Arrivals and Departures: The Stories We Tell (2018) which features stories from a workshop for newcomers to Canada.
During the online event, Saint Thomas University students and dynamic project interns, Abbey Lejeune and Aaron Beaumont, introduced the participants and their videos.
From Somalia, the two sole male participants were the most recent newcomers to Canada: Nasri Axmed Abdi and Mash Ismael Guliye.
Fredericton High School student Nasri Axmed Abdi’s video montage featured a collage of pictures overlaid with statements about his life journey, with a beautiful musical score.
Mash Ismael Guliye’s silent video, called “I Have a Story to Tell,” also superimposed pictures and text from and about his life’s journey. Having left Somalia, Guliye grew up in Ethiopia before immigrating to Canada.
Syrian student, Riham Bakr, made a 16 minute video about her sadness at the death of her grandmother Amina Bakr, her fear during the war in her home country, and her journey of immigration through Lebanon to Canada.
The narrated film featured Bakr poetically illustrating her narratives in different settings around the city of Fredericton and along the Wolastoq river. Bakr’s account shows her courage: “I wasn’t afraid because all my loved ones had died and, if I died, I would see them again.”
Syrian sisters Hala and Ranem Bakhash moved to Egypt in 2013 then, finally, to Canada in 2017. The siblings made the video “The Sun Shines Again,” which featured them telling their story, in front of an illustrated presentation illustrating their story with pictures from their life.
The Bakhash siblings’ very touching narrated dialogue declared that their parents “wanted us to complete our education under whatever circumstances.” The video featured footage of the extended tearful Bakhash family reunion at Fredericton airport when the girls arrived: “there was a whole lot of tears when we saw my uncle’s family.” Their uncle, Mohammad Bakhash, had immigrated with his own family a year earlier.
Hala Bakhash was also featured a separate video, “Hijab,” about wearing a hijab and explaining its significance for Muslim culture. Hala Bakhash’s explanation clarified that, for her, “modesty [is] an empowering and feminist tool.” She added: “I am not oppressed (…) that was completely my choice.”
Also from Syria, Shaima Zinah, transited through Jordan before coming to Fredericton. More somber than some of the other videos, her silent video featured text denouncing the appalling conditions of life for refugees.
Three sisters born in Jordan, Nisrein, Heba and Nermin Alsamman, participated as well.
Middle school student Nisrein Alsamman’s video is about a fictional girl named Farah who wore a hijab in high school and an unfortunate incident in which, on a dare, a boy in class pulled her hijab off. Nisrein Alsamman’s tale is a learning opportunity. She asked: “Why is respect important?”
Leo Hayes High School student Heba Alsamman also made a brief movie called “Freedom”: “freedom can mean so many things.” “Improving your life” by her sister Nermin Alsamman is an inspirational video about bettering oneself, one’s self-esteem and dealing with fear.
High school student Farima Afzal is from Iran; she described “where I was born, women cannot be whatever they want.” Afzal’s very thoughtful account explained: “Immigration is one of the hardest things in the world. (…) I gained freedom.” She concluded: “I’ve learned not to live in my memory. (…) I try my best to reach my goals.”
Born in Fredericton of South Asian and Muslim descent, Mehak Bandaty featured two of her poems “Familiar” and “Change,” both beautifully written. Bandaty’s verses gracefully examined the “familiar feeling of hope.” For her, change “can be frightening” and “sometimes the people it attacks become brittle.”
The second, very anticipated, phase of the project will feature intergenerational immigration stories and will be carried out in summer 2021.
Sophie M. Lavoie is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.