This blog was originally written for The Winnipeg Library's Site. My thanks to them for allowing me to post it here as well.
“Our lives make no sense if we are not helping others.” I first heard these inspiring words while interviewing refugee Muuxi Adam for a book I was writing in 2007. When I heard them something inside me noticeably shifted. I could feel their importance physically- like my cells instinctively understood something at a deeper level than my mind could make sense of- and I knew then, that writing this book and listening to refugees’ stories would be a pivotal experience for me.
Seven years later, Great Plains Publications published my first book The Lucky Ones: African Refugees’ Stories of Extraordinary Courage in May 2013. It was launched with 250 supporters and great celebration at McNally Robinson Booksellers. In September the book won the Manitoba On The Same Page Book Award sponsored by the Winnipeg Library and Winnipeg Foundation.
My life has changed meaningfully since beginning the book. Before, I knew only one refugee. Now, not only have I come to know the courageous subjects, but the book has also been an introduction to new associations with a greater community that cares passionately for and about refugees. When I began work on the book, I also started volunteering in adult English classes at Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM). It’s now my 7th year in the classroom and I continue to be energized and my life enriched by the connections I make while helping students there.
Muuxi, the man I referred to in the introduction, has founded Humankind International a charity committed to building an early years school in Dadaab the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya. He asked a number of us to be founding board members three years ago. After considerable commitment the school will open later this month.
The subjects’ repeated gratitude for peace and acceptance in Canada has made me a prouder Canadian, more grateful for the many things I take for granted, and grounded me during my daily challenges.
By taking the leap of faith it took to write this book, my life has been invigorated and transformed. Ten years ago, just as knowing refugees was not a common part of my life, neither was writing. After completing The Lucky Ones, I missed the creative process of writing so much that I am currently researching my second book. I have a newfound belief, best explained by a quote from The Lucky Ones, “The resilience of the subjects in this book, as well as this book’s creation, have taught me this: we should never limit our expectations to the boundaries of what we already know.”