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On October 1st, 2014, the Mosaic Institute’s UofMosaic Program launched its Fall 2014 discussion series entitled “UofMosaic Talks Peace: In the Aftermath of War” with an event that focused on the Somali community’s experience in Canada. The event, “Building Here vs. Building There: The Somali Diaspora’s Double Burden”, took place at York University and was co-presented by York University’s Centre for Human Rights and by the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs.

More than 50 people of both Somali and non-Somali background attended the evening discussion. Featured speakers were Faduma Mohamed, Co-Founder Positive Change, and Abdi Hersi, a graduate student in public policy at the University of Toronto and member of Mosaic’s Student Advisory Committee. Hiqab Gelle, community activist and curator of Couchiching Conversations, served as the discussion’s moderator.

The event began with a broad overview of the Somali community’s history in Canada and a synopsis of some of the current challenges and opportunities the community faces. There was a general agreement among attendees that, while the diaspora has progressed significantly since the 1990s, when many Somalis began arriving in Canada to escape the Somali civil war, the community still faces significant challenges.   At the same time, many members of the Somali community in Canada are contributing in extremely significant ways to the development and redevelopment of Somalia.

Both Faduma and Abdi emphasized the need for the community to better organize itself, and to learn from other communities in order to begin tackling issues that affect them such as Islamophobia, racism, unemployment, and mental health difficulties. Many attendees underscored that inter-generational learning was also critical both to improve the community’s experience in Canada and to enhance levels of support for grassroots development initiatives in Somalia. Other issues discussed included the difficulty of overcoming entrenched community divisions in the diaspora, and the experiences of many Canadians of Somali background who have chosen to return to Somalia in order to contribute to local development.

The event was valuable not only as a forum for the exchange of experiences and ideas among members of the Somali diaspora who have too few opportunities for such dialogues, but also as a unique opportunity for students and other attendees from non-Somali diaspora communities to learn firsthand how Canadians from other societies affected by conflict are successfully confronting their own integration challenges while simultaneously promoting the conditions in which peace can flourish in their countries of heritage. This is one of the most common but powerful traits of the Canadian Mosaic.

“UofMosaic Talks Peace: In the Aftermath of War” is a multi-part series taking place on campuses across Toronto. Upcoming events in December will focus on the experiences of the Rwandan and Sri Lankan communities in Canada.

UofMosaic is the Mosaic Institute’s innovative peace building and leadership development program for university students across Canada.The program delivers programming at Ryerson University, York University, the University of Toronto, Concordia University, McGill University, and Simon Fraser University. UofMosaic is made possible by the generous financial support of BMO Financial Group. For more information, please contact Program Manager Jothi Shanmugam at js@mosaicinstitute.ca