I had the privilege to speak at a Peace + Literacy event at the Dawe branch of the Red Deer Public Library last week.

As I prepared to speak, I was reminded of my grandparents who immigrated to Canada after the Second World War.  I was grateful I could share some of their story, including the challenges they faced as they came to their new country.  I admire new Canadians, especially those who speak English as a second language.  I can only imagine the obstacles they face as they work out their new vocabulary, just as I can only imagine the challenges my grandparents faced.

But they made it.  Lived beautiful lives, and like so many others, set up their children and grandchildren for an abudant and blessed life.

I was thankful, too, that I was able to share during my short presentation some of my experience in Malaysia working on the book Disappointed by Hope.  It was meaningful to reflect on the time and share the challenges migrants and refugees in Malaysia face which are both similar in some ways to those of new Canadians, but in other respects quite different.

One in four workers in Malaysia is foreign.  Malaysia is also a country of refuge to some 100,000 refugees or asylum seekers each year.   Because the country is not a signatory of the UN Convention for refugees, those who come to the country as legitimate refugees are automatically considered to have “illegal” or “irregular” immigration status.  This creates an environment that makes such individuals and communities considerably vulnerable to exploitation.  I saw some of that exploitation and vulnerability up close.

It was humbling and challenging to encourage those gathered at the Peace + Literacy event to be literate in the lives of others, aware of needs and anxieties in the lives of others and to offer help.

May they be words I, and you, live by.

I was also thankful to connect with a lot of different people.  There are incredible volunteers tutoring ESL speakers through this program, just as there are incredible ESL speakers being tutored.  A highlight of the night for me was to break into small groups and learn portions of the stories of new Canadians arriving to our fine country from Eastern Europe and Eastern Africa.

Here’s two photos I was sent from the event (courtesy of Lois Prostebby, Coordinator  of the Adult Literacy Program that runs through the Dawe Library):

Andrew Kooman speaks at Peace + Literacy, RDPL

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