Walk a mile in their shoes

City’s youngest take part in new ex­hibit

Moose Jaw Times Herald - - MJ SCENE - SARAH LADIK

It is barely or­ga­nized chaos in the base­ment stu­dio space at the Moose Jaw Mu­seum and Art Gallery (MJMAG).

Young chil­dren, Grade 2 stu­dents from École St. Mar­garet, clus­ter around ta­bles clutch­ing shoes, the bot­toms of which are cov­ered in paint. They are meant to be press­ing those shoes to pa­per to cre­ate foot­prints in guache, and while that is in­deed hap­pen­ing, there is also the usual amount of fool­ing around.

The light mood is de­spite the sub­ject matter dis­cussed only mo­ments be­fore. Two women — Howyda Al­haj Ali and Nabiha Al­ghanem — sat at the open­ing of a horse­shoe of chil­dren and re­lated parts of their ex­pe­ri­ence com­ing to Canada from war-torn Syria.

At times it was dif­fi­cult for them, but they shared their sto­ries with a rapt au­di­ence.

The chil­dren were part of a pro­gram called Walk A Mile In Their Shoes, run by the MJMAG and grown out of the A Right­ful Place ex­hibit fea­tur­ing the sto­ries of new­com­ers to Saskatchewan.

Ed­u­ca­tion co-or­di­na­tor Christy Sch­weiger wanted to build on the theme and de­cided to have new­com­ers in the com­mu­nity dec­o­rate shoes in a way that rep­re­sented their own jour­neys.

Reach­ing out even fur­ther, how­ever, Sch­weiger or­ga­nized a way for some of Moose Jaw’s youngest res­i­dents — a few of whom are new­com­ers them­selves — to have a hand in the new ex­hibit. The ac­tiv­ity is meant to teach chil­dren about the paths im­mi­grants and refugees of­ten take to get to Canada.

Al­ghanem re­counted how war had

They should know why we live in Canada. This is what hap­pened. Howyda Al­haj Ali

bro­ken out in Syria in 2012, and that soon after, she and her hus­band and their fam­ily left the cloth­ing store they ran and made straight for Jor­dan.

“We left ev­ery­thing and ran right away to Jor­dan,” she said. “We walked 11 hours in the mid­dle of the night.”

Both women, along with their fam­i­lies, were con­tacted by UNICEF and of­fered a place in Moose Jaw. While they lived in the same city in Syria, they only met once in Canada.

While the sub­ject matter was hard for them to talk about, and some of it was hard to hear, they said shar­ing their sto­ries was im­por­tant.

“They should know why we live in Canada,” said Al­haj Ali. “This is what hap­pened.”

Min­utes later, the en­ergy had changed en­tirely. Chil­dren used the painted shoes to make im­pres­sions on long ban­ners of pa­per which will be dis­played in the MJMAG gift shop, near a case adorned with footwear dec­o­rated by new­com­ers them­selves.

Scat­tered amongst the foot­prints, chil­dren (and a few adults present) wrote the word “shoe” in as many lan­guages as they knew.

The piece, which was re­peated with other classes over the course of the week, proved a dy­namic and vis­ceral il­lus­tra­tion of both the dif­fer­ences be­tween peo­ple liv­ing in Moose Jaw, as well as the things they hold in com­mon.

“These are the new­est sto­ries about com­ing to Canada,” ed­u­ca­tion co-or­di­na­tor Christy Sch­weiger said as the chil­dren painted. “But ev­ery­body has a part in those sto­ries.”

MAR­LON HEC­TOR/TIMES-HER­ALD

FRONT: A dec­o­rated boot from the Walk A Mile In Their Shoes pro­gram. RIGHT: Par­tic­i­pants gather around their new foot­print art­work at the Moose Jaw Mu­seum and Art Gallery.

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