Shanga Karim, a soft-spoken former Kurdistan journalist and women’s rights advocate, doesn’t look very imposing or heroic as she stands in front of a small group of fellow immigrant women at the Maple Ridge Library.
But the women she is talking to – who have their own stories to tell – know a hero when they see one.
After she describes surviving numerous death threats and the harrowing journey to flee her country there is much discussion and dictionary searching to translate their thoughts into English.
“Righteous is the word for you. You are a righteous soldier,” one of the women tells Karim, who now lives with her son and husband in Abbotsford, where she is determined to write and continue her humanitarian work.
“I realize that maybe I had to come to Canada to actually do the things I wanted to do at home,” Karim says.
“Sometimes, it feels like something magical that has happened to me.”
She and the group of women she’s chatting with are part of a workshop called Writing Home, a free, eight-week creative writing class for local refugee and immigrant women held at the Maple Ridge Library. The class is held every Friday.
Karim is a guest writer who will come in three times during the sessions to share both her writing skills and her empathy with the women who have had to make a similar journey across the globe.
“These women inspire me and remind me how important community is,” Karim says.
“It’s hard to start but they have a lot of stories to tell. We can encourage them to be the person they are and help them be happy.”
Local writer, and former community literacy worker, Lynn Easton, decided to try get the workshops off the ground after learning Maple Ridge is now one of most popular places in B.C. for new immigrants and refugees to put down roots.
“I had heard about similar programs in other communities and wondered how we could create more welcoming spaces for newcomers in Maple Ridge,” she said.
Heritage Canada has funded the two eight-week workshops, one for immigrant and refugee women and another for immigrant and refugee teens. Participants share their own stories of coming to Canada and many are full of their own unique heart-wrenching twists.
She praised project partners, FVRL’s Maple Ridge Library, The Family Education and Support Centre, and the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Literacy Committee for quickly understanding the value of art to help immigrants adjust to their new lives.
The women and teens will also share a bit of their own culture and explore their Canadian home through tours of the Maple Ridge library and The ACT.
“The community has been wonderful,” Easton said.
“Jessica Armstrong and the library staff have been so welcoming. We’re so lucky to have them.”
The two groups will have the chance to read at a final Maple Ridge library event where they’ll share written and digital stories complete with their own soundtracks. The teens will also work with on a mini-graphic story with writer and artist Sadiq Somjee who immigrated to Canada as a teen himself. He will use both drawing and storytelling to help the students tell their story of how their journey to Canada has impacted them.
“He knows what they are going through,” Easton said.
“Plus, he knows how to have fun.”
New participants are still welcome to join in and can write in English – or in any language.
“We are hoping more people join in each week. The more stories the richer we are.”
• The women’s Writing Home workshops are held 10:30–noon, Fridays until March 13. The teens Writing Home sessions will run 3:30–5pm Mondays until Mar. 30. Drop-ins are welcome.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 778-554-8500.