I gave a tour at the art gallery not long ago to a group of junior high students and their EAL (English as an Additional Language) teachers. It was an all day affair. In the morning we introduced them to some of the Canadian landscapes on display in the art gallery and then in the afternoon they got to create landscapes of their own in the art studio. As they were busy painting I walked around and talked to them and found out they came from places as diverse as Sudan, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, China and Eritrea. A number were painting scenes from their homelands and it was interesting to listen to them describe them to me.
Winnipeg is home to young people from all over the world. Not long ago I watched a CBC documentary featuring one of my colleagues on the Project Peacemakers’ curriculum committee. In 2008, while a teacher at Gordon Bell high school, Marc Kuly started a voluntary after school story telling group. Gordon Bell students speak 56 different languages and many have come to Canada from war torn countries. They were invited to share their stories with one another and their Canadian peers. Although the immigrant students had experienced violence and loss they were surprised to find that many of their fellow students who had been born in Canada were no strangers to life challenges and hardships as well.
The story telling project built bridges of understanding and friendship amongst the students from diverse cultures. John Paskievich and John Whiteway filmed the young people telling their stories as well as the visit Ishmael Beah author of A Long Way Gone made to the Winnipeg story telling club. Beah was a child soldier in Sierra Leone and it was his book that inspired Marc to start his story telling project. You can read more about the project in this Free Press article and see a clip from the film on the CBC website.
Art and story telling are just two venues young people in Winnipeg are using to share their cultural diversity with one another. I am sure there are many others and I look forward to learning about them too.