While walking on the path, I met a group of students working on an outdoor assignment, enjoying the activity and chatting away.
I love to find out the story behind people — starting with a joyous welcome to Canada and asking the inevitable question, ‘Where are you from?’
In this group there were people from Mexico, Argentina, China, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia, Turkey, Tibet, Tokyo, Nigeria and the Philippines.
Stop and think about that group of young folks. They came from places that were or are in conflict with one another: China and Hong Kong, China and Tibet, India and Pakistan, Turkey and Iran. Yet here they were, collaborating to successfully complete their assignment. These current conflicts and those old wars were not their wars.
I recall being in India during one of its conflicts with Pakistan. The situation at the time was such that we could not travel to the India-Pakistan border as planned. In the living space of a generous host with his family, including adult children, we were able to ask about the sensitive issue of conflict. The young folks instantly jumped into the conversation saying they had no grievance with Pakistan and actually had family and friends who lived there. This was not their war.
- More with Brenda Schoepp: Getting past the walls that we build around ourselves
Speaking earlier in the year with a girl from Iran she reflected on my question of conflict and sanctions. “It is only the women and children who suffer,” she replied. “Food goes up in price overnight or is not available. There is no meat, milk or sanitary products. Who gains from this?” This was not her war.
And so it goes. A young Russian couple I visited with do not bring any politics into the room. They are simply grateful to be here working and studying. Their story may differ but at the end of the day, young and old, we want peace and a nice place to work and raise families.
The civil boundary which safeguards us in public seems to dissolve when leaders seek power and the press seeks sensationalism. Conflict is sad, disturbing and drives folks outside of themselves. It has many faces: Accusation, suspicion, sanction, non-tariff barriers, religion, violence, isolation, turning off water, power or food distribution, policy, position, wealth, environmental destruction, bullying, sensationalism, fear, bad press and untamed social media.
Conflict is also profitable and historically has been driven by those who wait for access to natural resources such as fossil fuels, metals, gemstones, nuclear fuel, water and land. To really understand it we must read history and then compare what is happening today to political strategy used in the past. Divisiveness allows for access. Access is lucrative.
Many immigrants, especially migrants, are trying to escape conflicts they did not start and never wanted.
A few years ago, I had the privilege to visit with displaced Syrian farmers. They were grateful to be in Canada but were very tired. Going from being a landowner with many crops and cattle to escaping to a Canadian winter was an adjustment. Imagine one day waking up to find your cattle shot dead, every bird silenced by chemicals or explosive percussion, your house blown to bits, the school gone, the food stolen, the girls at great risk and the water poisoned. Even if you somehow stayed, no one is paying you for your crops and the road to sell them is guarded or ruined. There is no chance to go to a bank, hospital or embassy. Your choices are limited to run or run. This was their reality but this was not their war.
It takes exposure to other cultures to understand them and appreciate that those now prospective citizens come to Canada (just as our forefathers did) to have a better life. Many escaped conflict or are here because of it. Many were hungry, most were tricked into believing it would be easy. Recruiters did not talk about winter, isolation, language, lack of jobs and the fact that you may never see your family again.
Still, as much as they miss family and familiarity, they are grateful for being here. Some have come from one of the largest populations on earth — the 200 million persons today without a fixed address.
Perhaps the couple I was walking with later captured it perfectly. Immigrants 45 years ago from Europe they reflected on how Canada is a unique country because one could travel to geographical and culturally different places without crossing a border.
I am grateful that migrants and immigrants to Canada invested in our economy and in peace, retaining culture and opening their doors to others.
They did not bring their wars or conflicts to Canada but instead are like that diverse group of students on the path, working together toward a good grade and a good life.