Sunday 25 Feb 2018, Ottawa
Humans for Peace Institution (HPI), the Ottawa Chinese Canadian Heritage Centre (OCCHC), and Arabesque, a local Syrian band, organized an event, Syrians for Peace, on February 25 in Ottawa. The vision for this event was to help improve connections between the Syrian refugee community and mainstream society in Ottawa. “As the vast majority of Canadians have welcomed Syrian refugees to the country with open arms and hearts, we wanted to have a way to enable Syrians in Ottawa to give back to the larger community”, said Dr. Alsharif, founder and President of HPI.
The event featured a night of Syrian culture with song and dance performances from various artists, henna art by Anisa Khan, traditional Syrian dishes made by Ladies for Peace, Arabic calligraphy by Khaled Elsheikh from the Arab Canadian Cultural Center, and an art exhibit featuring paintings by Syrian refugee children and youth.
Great thanks to Diamond Sponsor, Robbie’s Italian Restaurant, and to our other sponsors: Baseline Dental Clinic, Care2Cure Physiotherapy and Rehab Centre, The UPS Store #112, Gabriel’s Pizza, Arab Canada Newspaper, Bridgehead, City Councillor Michael Qaqish, City Councillor Catherine McKenney, and MP Robert Falcon Ouellette, for helping to make this event possible. More than 400 people attended the event, with fifty VIPs from all levels of government.
From 5 to 6:30 pm, attendees enjoyed traditional Syrian food prepared by Ladies for Peace. “This is the best food I ever had, I don’t want to leave this place. I wish my wife can do something like this, I will be the happiest man”, said Michael. “Ladies for Peace worked hard for weeks to make everything ready for this event, to express their culture and gratitude to everyone who supported this cause. They refuse to take any money, and donated their work to this great cause to help others”, said Dr. Yousra Almosli, VP for Women Affairs at HPI.
During the same time period, attendees were invited to talk to the thirteen artists who created forty paintings to express themselves and the way they see their future. “Humans for Peace Institution is working hard to empower women especially immigrants, newcomers, and refugees”, said Noor Sakhniya, VP for Youth Affairs at HPI.
“We try our best to present our token of gratitude to this great nation, and we invite everyone to our online auction site where they can bid on the paintings: http://auction.humanspeace.org/ “ said Mr. Mohamed Ali, VP for Cultural Affairs at HPI. “The online auction site is open until March 25th, 2018, and we encourage everyone to share the auction site with others, so they too can bid.”
Masters of Ceremonies were Mr. Zachary Rowswell, Community Outreach Coordinator for the OCCHC, and Ms. Lilia Liloucha, VP for Public Relation at HPI. Ms. Wanda Sinclair, sign language interpreter, provided ASL translation, a service rarely seen at public events such as this.
The evening started with the singing of ‘O Canada’ by World Folk Music Ottawa and Children for Peace, in both official languages. Then MP Chandra Arya delivered a message on behalf of the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin P. J. Trudeau, who sent a written letter supporting the event.
Next, MPP John Fraser brought a video greeting from Premier of Ontario, the Honourable Kathleen Wynne, and he also delivered a speech thanking everyone who supported the event. MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers followed, expressing how proud she was of Syrians giving back to the community.
City Councillor Michael Qaqish delivered a speech bringing a message on behalf of the Mayor of Ottawa, the Honourable Jim Watson. Refugee advocate Lovina Srivastava talked about time spent with Syrians refugees, thanked them for ‘giving back’, and commented on their warmth and generosity.
Finally, Dr. Alsharif delivered a speech on behalf of Humans for Peace Institution and the Ottawa Chinese-Canadian Heritage Centre. He thanked everyone who made the event possible, and recognized that the event was taking place on unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin territory. Then he invited Children for Peace to the stage “because maybe kids are 30% of our present, but they are 100% of our future” to deliver Humans for Peace Institution’s message in actions, not in words, where they dramatically communicated HPI’s motto of ‘everyone wins’. Dr. Alsharif finished his speech with the following: “At Humans for Peace Institution, we believe that, no matter what colour your skin is, no matter what language you speak, no matter what religion you believe in, no matter where you are from, as far you call this Canada home we call you family. Meegwetch”.
Following the speeches, Humans for Peace Institution played a video they produced called ‘Syrian Children have Dreams’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X2HaEqjJ-s), followed by four songs by World Folk Music Ottawa and Children for Peace.
Ottawa Inuit Rappers, William Komaksiutiksak and J Breton, performed three dynamic songs that were thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. The next performance by world class musician Tony Komery, was an amazing mix of Latino and Arabic music that made the audience dance in their seats. Tony has been playing since he was a teenager, when he was inspired by Gypsy Kings to learn classical guitar. Later, inspired by the music of Paco de Lucia, he learned to play flamenco guitar from Spanish flamenco guitar teacher, Manuel Granados, with whom he continues to study and work to this day. Tony’s guitar performance was followed by a beautiful and serene traditional folk dance by Children for Peace.
The last hour featured Arabesque, performing Syrian music using traditional instruments. Arabesque is a group made up of talented Syrian musicians in Ottawa who wish to give back to the community through music and art. Arabesque is the only Arabic band in Ottawa, playing from a wide repertoire of traditional Arabic music from the ocean to the gulf. Each member of the band has an extensive background in the entertainment industry, and together they have appeared on numerous shows and performed live at a host of events, from weddings to corporate dinners, captivating guests as they provided world-class ambient instrumental entertainment.
Arabesque started with songs that inspired people to come to the stage where they enjoyed traditional Dabkeh dancing. Dabkeh is a type of folk dance characteristic to different countries in the Middle East. There are various styles depending on the region of the dancers, but there are underlying similarities that make it mutually recognizable to people from different areas. Dabkeh is seen as a form of communication to express emotion to others and is often performed during weddings and other happy occasions.
The event received letters or recognitions from minister of environment and climate change The Honourable Catherine McKenna, from the leader of New Democratic Party (NDP) The Honourable Jagmeet Singh, from The Honourable Senator Jim Munson, and from the city City Councillor in Gloucester-South Nepean Ward and Refugees lesion in the city of Ottawa Mr Michael Qaqish.
The proceeds from this ‘Syrians for Peace’ event will be donated to Canadian Blood Services, and to the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre.