& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, October 02, 2009

Stories of Change

I attended a deeply thought-provoking conference yesterday (October 1).

The 2009 Maytree Leadership Conference was what I call a 'Big Idea' conference.

Thanks to Helen Walsh, President of Diaspora Dialogues, I was invited to participate in the conference.

The theme for this year’s conference was Telling Stories; Creating Change.

John Cruikshank, publisher of Toronto Star, set the tone for the conference with a radical idea.

He said it was time to shake the foundations of the notion that the free market model is the most rational economic model there is, or can ever be.

According to Cruikshank, that was the story of the past.

He suggested that there is a definite role for good governance (not big government) to regulate the economy so that the young, the old, and the poor are not left behind.

According to Cruikshank, this is the story of the future.

It’s an idea that will set in motion changes and create social upheavals across the world; especially in the developing world. (See interview)

I participated in a workshop on pitching story ideas to the media. Jennifer Lewington of The Globe and Mail and Julia Howell, communications consultant, conducted it with alacrity and verve.

Nelofer Pazira, author, filmmaker and journalist narrated her own story in the session on Adversity and Courage: Journeys to Canada Storytelling in Practice.

A story that had the audience spellbound. Listening to her it was hard to imagine that she spoke just five words of English in 1990 when she immigrated to New Brunswick from Afghanistan.

She addressed many dilemmas that immigrants face while settling in Canada. Pazira underlined my conviction that integration is easier, faster and less painful if the newcomer consciously adopts Canadian values.

The evening ended with certificates being awarded to refugee students.

Here is an extract from the booklet Making their Mark Canada’s Young Refugees that tells Ahmed’s story – a story that is shared by hundreds of thousands refugee children.

It’s a fictionalised but accurate account written by Peter Showler, Director of the Refugee Forum at the University of Ottawa.


“Ahmed remained in the camp for nine years. His father did not return and his mother was unhappy. At first he was not able to go to school. There was not enough food. He was always hungry and there was work to do. He helped his mother carry water and collect firewood. He had to go very far to collect wood. His sister used to go with him until the men attacked her and left him beaten. He still carried a dark mark over his left eye that would never go away. His mother sold some of her jewellery to buy a large knife that she said would protect them from the men who came at night. When his mother got sick, he took the knife and kept it under his blanket. The nights were very cold and he often woke up shivering, feeling the knife and he would listen for the men but they did not come. He was fourteen and sure that he would use the knife. His sister was always sad after the attack. People said that she was unclean and she died after the floods that came in the spring and made people sick.”

I read this on my way back home.

I have no right even to think (let alone complain) that I'm being discriminated in my new homeland.

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