Matthew House Presents Exodus: Our Journey to Europe

Natalie Vaughn Graham, one of our volunteers at the spring fundraiser

For most of us, an average Tuesday evening is simply that; another average Tuesday evening. But for a special crowd of Torontonians, last Tuesday night presented a much more meaningful encounter. On May 16th, a crowd of 305 stepped away from their typical Tuesday evening routine and gathered at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema for an engaging event surrounding the first installment of a 3-part documentary series entitled Exodus: Our Journey to Europe.

Matthew House invited guests to follow — and in some small way experience — the journey of refugees attempting to reach Europe and escape war, poverty or persecution. The film’s production team gave camera phones to a handful of Europe-bound Syrians, allowing them access to footage that film crews could not otherwise obtain. The result is an incredibly realistic and unscripted portrayal of the largest movement of people that Europe has seen since World War II.

Part 1 of the series followed four refugees and their companions as they left their homes, along with hundreds of thousands who fled from Syria, and traveled to the Turkish port of Izmir with the hopes of moving further into Europe or beyond. The documentary invited viewers to travel alongside the refugees as smugglers charged erroneous sums of money to send them to Europe via water, in over-crowded and under-resourced dinghies. Event attendees were transported directly from the warmth and comfort of mid-May in Toronto to a small, cold and slowly submerging dingy in the midst of the stormy Mediterranean Sea.

(L to R) Lara O’Brien, Karen Francis, Dr Meb Rashid, Anna Maria Tremonti, Helton Achaye and Tom Edgerton

The documentary was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC Radio’s The Current, and comprised of Dr Meb Rashid, medical director of Toronto’s only in-hospital refugee clinic, Alison Mountz, Professor of Geography at Wilfred Laurier University and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration and Geography, and Helton Achaye, who himself journeyed to Toronto as a refugee years ago. The audience was fully engaged as panellists discussed many of the realities that modern day refugees face. These realities range from the very tangible and practical to the emotional and psychological. Sharing from three very different — yet equally informative — perspectives, the panel reminded guests of the intensity and complexity of the refugee crisis, but also of the ways in which we can identify with many of the struggles that refugees face.

As the documentary followed Ahmad, Hassan, Anas and eleven-year-old Isra’a, the stories wove back and forth to form an emotional narrative that, at its core, we can all relate to. While the idea of fleeing home is unimaginable for most of us, the narrative that continues to unfold is one of unexpected circumstances, heartbreaking goodbyes, loss, disappointment and the sometimes challenging bonds of friendship and family. The film reminds us that, although these struggles are very specific and a refugee’s journey can be neither belittled nor undermined, we are all human and we can all relate; there is not one specific refugee archetype. As one of our panelists put it, many refugees come from lives very similar to our own; any one of us could be a refugee.

As attendees watched the travelers anxiously await their crossing from Turkish waters to Greek, they too crossed a border of sorts; many of us moving from a place of blissful ignorance to a place of awareness and empathy. For some, this honest portrayal of the refugee crisis may not be completely new, however for many this was a first look at the very difficult steps taken prior to arriving in a new land as a refugee. Many of our guests were profoundly moved, some so much so that they joined Matthew House as donors, volunteers and partners. Most importantly, however, they were moved to join in the ranks of individuals and communities that are committed to making conscious and loving efforts to support newly arrived refugees.

Adrianna Marling, one of our volunteers at the spring fundraiser

We would like to thank Regent Park Catering Collective, Hot Docs and the many generous businesses that donated to our raffle. We were thrilled and honoured to receive over $1,000 in donations and to welcome 14 individuals who made a decision to partner with Matthew House as new monthly donors. We would also like to thank our event sponsors C3, K Greg Smith &Associates, Tallman Group, Vast Auto and our ambitious team of Matthew House volunteers who contributed many hours of their time.

In fulfilling Matthew House’s mandate to continuously inspire others through action and advocacy, we thank all who attended and we hope that you were truly inspired to think, to love and to act. And for all those who couldn’t attend, we hope to see you next year!

Written by Adrianna Marling

Freelance Writer & Matthew House Volunteer