“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
On Thursday July 22, 2016 The Mosaic Institute hosted a screening of Cast from the Storm – a documentary unfolding in a first-person perspective, by way of raw, personal stories of children fleeing the atrocities of conflict affected countries and arriving, growing up, coping and integrating into their new home in Australia. The screening, sponsored by NOW Magazine and the HotDocs Ted Rogers Cinema with the support of over 15 community organizations, raised $2,600 with all proceeds going to Lifeline Syria.
Through the framework of a unique and innovative after school theatre program – ‘Tree of Life’, the teenagers from war torn Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Serbia narrate their thoughts and experiences. In weaving their stories into the script of the play, the children become visibly more comfortable – even though their process of recollection often uncovers fragments and memories which had been forgotten, or buried deep inside in an attempt to forget. By sharing these personal narratives the youth begin to move past the initial trauma of their experiences and begin the extensive healing process.
Thursday night’s packed theatre went from laughter to tears as the documentary protagonists, displaying characteristic child innocence, portrayed their uncanny ability to showcase resilience despite having lived through brutality many are fortunate to have never experienced. Following the film, attendees posed questions to the film makers and the Tree of Life program founder, wondering how similar bridging and support programs could be institutionalized and implemented alongside government resettlement and immigration policies in other hosting countries. The audience recognized that, like in the film, creating safe spaces for the youth to share their experiences while simultaneously link newcomers with local residents to help smooth community building and ensure compassion and empathy are paramount in the settlement process.
The subject matter is all too familiar these recent months, with the refugee crises in Europe gracing the front pages of every major publication. While the general topic of refugees has almost become an accepted reality, there is yet much misunderstanding surrounding the experiences of the families who decide to, despite of all the known dangers, leave everything behind, and undertake a treacherous journey, risking the one thing they have remaining in their possession – their lives.
Following the initial difficult journey to a new country, refugees, especially youth, face the challenges of having to cross borders yet again, this time, conceptual rather than physical or geographical. Marginalization, racial aggression and social alienation all become a new reality when navigating their new home. Having to prove themselves anew, break prejudices and misconceptions, refugees often find themselves fighting for validation of ‘self’ or the validation of their own humanity.
Layer by layer, Cast from the Storm successfully brought forth not solely personal stories and the bitter reality of civilian suffering in conflict zones, but touched on issues of race, cultural identity and integration into foreign communities. While the film documents refugees in Australia, other host countries – including Canada – experience similar fragility surrounding the acceptance and understanding of the ‘other’.
Canada, under Trudeau’s newly formed liberal government, has recently received 25,000 Syrian refugees over and above our normal refugee quotas. Such policies are essential given the rising amounts of displaced people due to disasters and armed conflicts globally. However, resettlement and funding policies require cultural and social integration and community dialogue, an aspect which the documentary portrays beautifully when the Tree of Life program provides an opportunity for the refugee children to meet with youth their age in a remote Australian community. The two groups set out to explore ‘the other’, only to soon realize their ‘sameness’, becoming good friends.
The narratives featured in Cast from the Storm resonate across the globe within countries whose governments engage in refugee immigration policies and whose local communities are not always equipped with the knowledge and guidance to make room for and integrate these newcomers, often resulting in build up of animosity and racial intolerance. Governments require assistance in designing interdisciplinary programming as a follow up to their resettlement efforts to create lasting change in the lives of those seeking new home.
When the Mosaic Institute convened the Humanity Wins Committee, headed by former immigration minister, the Honourable Ron Atkey, it emphasized that, despite commonly expressed security and integration concerns, following Canadian tradition means not letting those concerns override our humanity in welcoming and protecting the lives of those fleeing horrifying conflicts and seeking shelter in other countries.
We are glad to see that, for the most part, Canadians have risen to the occasion and continue to welcome those fleeing to our safer shores.
The Mosaic Institute is grateful to all those who attended this screening and to our supporters for their assistance. We also thank Judy Csillag for bringing this film to our attention.
Elena Lifshits Carrera graduated Film and Television from Sheridan Institute working as a film editor while completing her second BA – Specialized Communications: Marginalized Community Development from York University. She is currently a Master of Global Affairs (MGA) Candidate at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. Fervently passionate about everything revolving forced displacement, Human Rights, poverty, equality (or rather the lack of it) and the overlap of policy and communications in post conflict areas focusing on children rights and marginalized communities, she is cautiously optimistic about the future. This summer, Elena will be supporting our work with Indigenous communities as well as developing proposals for future research initiatives.