Mississauga youth host families in transition

By  Natasha Milavec, Youth Speak News
  • December 4, 2009
{mosimage} MISSISSAUGA, Ont.  - When asked about the conflicts she faced in her home country of Nigeria, J.P., who did not wish to disclose her full name, was shaken up in discussing an unjust past she has worked hard to put behind her. Hers is a story of courage and determination shared by 135 refugees who attended the seventh annual Family Faith Night dinner and talent show at St. Marcellinus Catholic Secondary School  Nov. 26.

J.P. came to Canada in 2001, a process that was far from easy. Along with her two sons, Kenny, seven, and Alex, 12, J.P. found support and comfort in Sojourn House, a “short-term shelter for refugees who have no option to stay somewhere decent, and a transitional house that provides a longer-time stay for refugees who have experienced trauma,” said Everton Gordon, the shelter manager.

J.P. is very grateful for the shelter.

“I feel safe,” she said. “They helped me a lot. I am so happy there. I have two boys; they are happy in Sojourn House.”

Nashwa Tawfiq, a Sojourn House staff member, said there are “a whole wide variety of people at Sojourn House who come for a wide range of reasons; political, religious, domestic violence or sexual orientation,” to name a few. “Everybody is grateful and appreciative of the time, effort, and generosity that go into planning this event and putting it together,” Tawfiq said. “It is a good way to celebrate the season and has become a tradition.”

The talent show included a blend of student and guest performances. A crowd favourite was Alimu and Aliya Abulimiti, a Uyghur couple who performed their wedding dance and a cultural belly dance. The couple is from an area in East Turkestan, but are currently residents of the transitional housing program at Sojourn House.

After the show, a dinner of chicken, rice, vegetables and salad was served, prepared by the school’s hospitality class and teacher Michael Begin.

Student volunteers at the event are members of the chaplaincy team at St. Marcellinus and were seated among the refugees, listening to their stories. Grade 10 student Huda Hajjaj, who moved recently from Kuwait but is originally from Palestine, said she volunteered to “get to know people from different places.” Monika Sidhu, also a Grade 10 student, volunteered at the event in order to “help out your community,” she said.

S.C., who also does not wish to disclose his full name, sat beside Hajjaj and shared his story. He has been in Canada for one-and- a-half years and left Pakistan because of “religious problems,” he said. His journey to Canada was difficult. “Adjustment is hard,” said S.C., who misses Pakistan.

“The night gives refugees a glimpse of beautiful people and Christ-like love in their lives that they have not experienced in a long time. Catholic schools can teach the Gospel in their classrooms but events like these show how the Gospel should be taught, by action,” said Shane Byrne, chaplain at St. Marcellinus.

Family Faith Night was an immersion of people once separated by borders, geographical, political and spiritual. The Christ-like love shared between guests and students was a testament to family and faith.

(Milavec, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Father John Redmond Catholic Secondary School.)

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