Prepared by Alexandra Dawley – Manager, Refugee Settlement and Integration Program
A soccer ball.
A box of black tea.
Ordinary objects can become extraordinary symbols of welcome.
MOSAIC is proud to have partnered with Oxfam Canada to present Museum Without a Home, Victoria. Held on November 15th, this event was part of an international, award-winning exhibition featuring real objects given to refugees in their new countries as symbols of friendship and solidarity. Particular focus was placed on the stories of women and girls, shining light on the unique challenges they can face while seeking asylum.
Shirin* and Muna* are both resilient, remarkable, well-spoken community leaders. Together with their husbands and Shirin’s child, they travelled together to Victoria for this event as the much anticipated keynote speakers.
Shirin and Muna were both forced to flee their homes due to increasing instability and well-founded fear of persecution. With unique backgrounds and experiences, their journeys to Canada were distinctly different but equally challenging. Upon arrival to Vancouver they both claimed asylum and began the uncertain, lengthy process of navigating Canada’s refugee claim system. Without close friends or relatives in Canada, these women faced tremendous stress, grief and overwhelm.
However, acts of welcome significantly helped to ease the hardship of this challenging time. All attendees of this exhibition were fortunate to witness the resilience, thoughtfulness and great sense of humour possessed by Shirin and Muna, while listening to the stories of welcome they shared.
An offering of tea made a significant impact on Shirin:
There was one thing which meant so much to us, which showed that I really had found my Canadian family, people who would love me and my husband like my parents do. It was a gold tray with two Kurdish teacups and a full box of delicious black tea. This was so special and very meaningful for us. She had said everything she needed to through this tray of tea. She had showed us her heart, and all my fears melted away. The tea told me this house was full of love and happiness. The cups showed me the depth of her kindness. They reminded me of having tea every morning for breakfast, and after lunch and supper with my family back home. I looked at this lovely Canadian woman with tears streaming down my face, and said: “How do you know me?”. She had never had Kurdish guests, so did not know all our culture and customs, but she had wanted to. She had turned to Google, and asked “What is that thing Kurdish people can't live without?” The answer that she got was: “Black Tea. I experienced my first taste of belonging in a cup of tea. It gave me a feeling of the warmth of home, crossing a distance of 10, 523 kilometres in a single sip.
Muna’s story, represented by a MOSAIC T-Shirt, expressed:
The MOSAIC logo consists of three M letters, linked to each other like a chain. This colorful, connected image represents the story of people, newcomers, and all Canadian citizens who we have met during this short period of immigration to Canada. MOSAIC looks like a kind friend to us, who strives to create a community of joyful spring colours and heartfelt summer days by connecting newcomers to the wider community of Canada. We were provided this t-shirt when we began volunteering. The experience of volunteering was incredible for us and gave us a pleasant feeling because we were able to see hope and desire in the eyes of the refugee families we were helping who were anxious about their daily lives. My husband and I are proud to have these t-shirts in our wardrobe, because they symbolize the experience of giving back to the community – An act which fills some of the emptiness in our hearts regarding our faraway home, family and friends.
The stories of these women are unique, however they do not stand alone. At present, the UNHCR estimates that there are 70.8 million people displaced world wide. Such a number can become so massive that it feels incomprehensible – unfathomably large. This event amplified the voices of women who have navigated the refugee claim system in our communities – A reminder that there is no “us” vs. “them”. Rather, we are all just people, with the opportunity to support each other in times of challenge by connecting through warm acts of welcome.
*Please note, the names of the individuals in this article have been changed to respect the privacy of them and their families abroad while they navigate the refugee claim process.
Through meaningful collaboration, MOSAIC’s Refugee Settlement and Integration Program provides essential services to hundreds of refugee claimants annually. Learn more about MOSAIC’s Settlement services here mosaicbc.org/services/settlement/