Edmonton Living Rooms: The Heroes

Throughout 2017, the Edmonton Heritage Council and Multicultural Health Brokers Co-Op is embarking on a project to explore Edmonton’s diversity through universal themes of humanity. Edmonton Living Rooms brings together natural leaders and animators from seven communities to share their stories. Here’s a little bit more about the project’s heroes.

Community Animators

The South Sudanese Trio 

Barnabas Kenji is a high school student, for whom being a steward of the community means rebuilding processes. He strongly believes that in order to survive, we need each other.

Ayan Kur is a business student at Grant MacEwan University and loves to read. She’s found the intentional interactions with community members, both young and old, very eye-opening.

Hana Kur is a student at Archbishop O’Leary High School who love’s getting her hands dirty in the tech-savvy world. For Hana it’s been fascinating to hear her parents stories about learning, she found most elders revering their parents and began to appreciate her parents more in this light.

The Eritrean Duo

Nfti Tesfamicael is a high school student who loves to sing. Nfti was personally struck by how much the seniors enjoy telling their stories; she was fascinated to learn about the political experiences of Eritrea and to learn that there was once peace experienced in that country.

Hermella Haile is a grade 11 student who’s passionate about culinary arts and baking. Hermella was moved by hearing the generations of stories, hearing experiences she’s never heard before, little games and songs played by elders and seeing things differently than ever before.

Bhutanese Partners

Rabin Rai works in Edmonton and loves to spend his time reading the newspaper. He’s grateful to work on this project, it’s unlike anything he’s ever done before. Rabin was raised by his mother in Bhutan, who despite not having common English literacy, taught beautiful values and manners to him and the surrounding community.

Rohit Kharel is a pharmacy technician, and serves on the Board of the Bhutanese Canadian Association of Edmonton. Rohit is a poet and loves playing scrabble. For Rohit, Artistic Expression has been the best session yet, enjoying festive clothing, food and literary expression.

Kurdish Brothers

Rubar Heyecan is a multi-linguist Civil Engineering student at the University of Alberta, who thoroughly enjoys yoga, soccer and teaching Kurdish guitar. Rubar has been most excited about designing and showcasing the Kurdish narratives in their community pop-up exhibit. 

Liberty Heyecan is a third year Astrophysics student at the University of Alberta, a leader for Kurdish youth and an owner of a construction company. Like his brother Rubar, Liberty serves the Kurdish community through broader translation from life back home to life in Canada.

Syrian Team

Hala Mostafa is a Multicultural Health Broker in the Syrian community who runs a youth group, while doing her Bachelor of Arts degree. Hala spends much time engaging newly arriving Syrian youth attain skills to move forward in their new country.

Ahmed Sawan is a grade 11 student who loves soccer. Ahmed dreams of becoming a doctor one day. He works at the MCHB satellite office, helping Hala welcome the numerous personalities of youth walking into their space.

Iraqi Soloist

Ali Alzubaidi has a PhD in Financial Management from the UK and has been a trooper, working hard to gather and listen to members of the Iraqi community.  For Ali it has been wonderful listening to the different Iraqi family experiences and the connection of all to their birth-country through customs and traditions. He’s been fascinated to understand how newcomers evolve in their co-existence within a Canadian reality. 

Sierra Leone, Mother & Son

George Ishiekwene (Jr) is a grade 12 student who loves to serve his community. He’s helped his mother, Martha, a Broker and Natural Leader, bring together old and young to share stories together. George is especially talented at hosting little children; asking them questions and helping them paint their stories on paper.

Natural Leaders

Jalal Barzanji

Jalal has a unique story. He was once the Executive Director for the Arts and Culture Ministry of Kurdistan. One day, he was unable to return home. That would be the day that his life changed. Searching in his office he knew he didn’t have his passport, so he grabbed two things: his first hand written collection, “The Dance of the Evening Snow”, and two pages of his published poems ripped from a magazine. The days to follow were tumultuous mix of hiding and entrapment, but Jalal’s poetry became his passport. “This was better than a passport,” he says. “At the UN, they trusted my writing…”. Today, Jalal is a Broker. He knew he couldn’t be a journalist or a writer due to the language barrier, but he learned day by day and, together with his wife Saba, they found ways to integrate and build the Kurdish community. “We help people with love and passion. There is no pressure.”

Saba Tahir

Saba is Jalal’s wife, whose mountainous heart provides water for numerous communities, in particular the Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian.  Her grandmother, who was, like Saba, a pure and small woman with a very generous heart, early on inspired Saba. Despite losing family and having to take many strides, Saba has always believed in God. “No matter what happens, God has the best plan,” she says. “Everyday life has unfairness. We need to overcome and deal with it in a peaceful way.” She wants people to know the power that they possess and has spent endless hours working with the Community Animators to create space for listening, sharing and vivacious heartwork.

Martha Sellu

Martha, the mother of Community Animator George Ishiekwene (Jr), is a mother to everyone. Martha comes from a deep understanding of life in a Ghanaian refugee camp, where she struggled for years learning all about life independently; it was in the camp that she began teaching women and children, and eventually married and had children of her own.  Today she is a Broker for the Sierra Leone community. “All this came from a refugee camp,” she says “Nights I spent praying with no food to eat – I know that feeling.” Martha’s clients now call her ‘Aunty’.  “I’m now in a place where I can give whatever little help I can give,” she says.

Joseph Luri

Joseph comes from a childhood of creative ingenuity. He and his friends would make soccer balls out of old socks, grass and banana leafs in South Sudan; today, this is a treasured memory. For Joseph, home is a place of stories, wisdom and joy shared by elders and young. It is where there is hope for dreams to be fulfilled – this is what drives Joseph, moving from a journey of isolation and thoughts, to one of rekindling shared experiences, grievances, and joys intergenerationally. As a Broker in the South Sudanese community, Joseph is a connector, storyteller, and firefighter.

Shiva Chapagai

Shiva is a golden leader for the Bhutanese community, who is continuously challenged by the question, “are individual communities overlooked because of numbers?” Understanding what home is has been an ongoing journey for Shiva, “I saw many homes in my life. I spent many ways of life.” This has allowed him to walk in the shoes of refugees landing in Edmonton, from places like Nepal, Bhutan and India, and help build bridges for folks to live a safer and fuller life in Edmonton. Shiva leads with humility and helps to cultivate a community that is enlightened by hard work and gratitude. 

Tigist Dafla

Tigist is one of the pioneers who have been serving newcomers since the founding of the Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative. She began in 1994 through serving refugee women, over time extending to youth, seniors and family. Realizing the travesties of people coming through, she created space for refugees to share their experiences and grow from their hardships. Tigist strongly believes that “distorted histories will not allow for winning; you cannot win by yourself, nor in isolation.” The key is community service with the people, the broader collective, in an effort to attain understanding of the self and the other. Tigist is a lover of Eritrean fabrics and natural healing medicines.

These are just a few stories from the animators and natural leaders who connect with their communities through the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-Op. We hope you’ll have an opportunity to find out more about these fellow Edmontonians at Edmonton Living Rooms’ traveling exhibit, launching in July. To stay in touch, please follow Living Rooms on Facebook and Twitter!