World Refugee Day
In the year 2000, the United Nations General Assembly resolved that from 2001 onwards, June 20th would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. For anyone who’s counting that’s 17 years of commemorating, supporting and acknowledging refugees around the world, both those that are secure and thriving and those that have not been successful in their journey.
Over these past 19 years (and for many years prior) countless refugees have settled in Canada and Toronto specifically has become widely known for its acceptance, diversity and multiculturalism. While it may seem that Toronto has become a safe and even obvious choice of relocation for immigrants and refugees, there is still an incredible amount of emotional, physical, social, financial and legal support needed. Enter Matthew House. Organisations and structures that exist to support refugees are still absolutely essential and as the amount of support increases, as does the number of refugees in need of this support.
On 20 June 2017 Matthew House welcomed over 150 guests to their Dundas St. residence where individuals of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds came together to share stories, successes and, of course, food. It is safe to say that the meal was a highlight of the evening for all in attendance. Dishes from Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Jamaica and DRC were served as well as a number of sweet treats, cakes and drinks. The Spicy Ethiopian generously donated a number of Ethiopian dishes, while the others were prepared by Matthew House residents and supporters. Many who attended were tasting these cultural dishes for the first time and while the meal was a unique and exciting culinary experience, it was also a wonderful reflection of what Matthew House represents; people of all backgrounds coming together to embrace and celebrate difference and diversity as an essential element of positive and supportive community.
In addition to feasting on a delicious meal, guests also enjoyed a program that reflected the diversity and strength of the Matthew House community. A local 9-year-old girl named Nya gave a presentation on why she raised $336 at her elementary school — simply out of her own desire to help — and sang a beautiful song. Two UNCHR representatives were in attendance, as were three YPI (Youth and Philanthropy Initiative) groups from Bishop Allen Academy, Lawrence Park High School and Central Toronto Academy as they had been awarded $15,000 through their initiatives, which they donated to Matthew House. Lastly, guests heard an honest and moving story from Barri, a former Matthew House resident. Barri shared about his journey as an unaccompanied refugee youth, a newcomer to Toronto, and now as a third year Astrophysics student at the University of Toronto.
While guests celebrated the community and the safety that many refugees have found, they also paused to acknowledge those who have not been so fortunate. While Matthew House has become a home and safe-haven for many, the truth remains that innumerable refugees have not succeeded on their journey to freedom and safety. While World Refugee Day is a time of celebration, it is also a time to mourn the countless losses and to acknowledge the critical work that is yet to be done. Guests observed a moment of silence to remember refugees who did not make it to safety and to acknowledge the refugees who are still struggling today, in the midst of a journey that is not yet finished.
Not only do refugees enrich our lives with loving community, but they strengthen our cities by enhancing our workforce and social structures with new skills, ideas and perspectives. And of course we can’t forget the new foods that they introduce us to as well! Whether you were with us or not, we hope that you were able to participate in World Refugee Day in some way. And most importantly, we hope that you were able to see and appreciate the importance of World Refugee Day not as a solitary experience, but as a model by which we shape and guide our perspectives every day of the year. Mark your calendars for the next World Refugee Day celebration on 20 June 2018, and in the meantime stay tuned to all things Matthew House TO for upcoming events, opportunities and celebrations.
Written by Adrianna Marling
Freelance Writer & Matthew House Volunteer