Community with an international flavour

Submitted by Derek Alton on November 5, 2012 - 4:18pm
An inspiring conversation with my friend Tamirat

A Conversation with Tamirat and Derek

**In this post I summarize a conversation I had with my friend Tamirat. He is refugee student sponsored by the World University Service of Canada from Kenya and previously had bounced around in a couple of the countries in central Africa.   My conversation with him has been one of the most interesting ones I have had so far.  My commentary is in italics.


What does community mean to you?

Tamirat: Community to me is all about the people where you happen to be.  These are the people you interact with, that you share experiences, tasks and feelings with.  Everyone is responsible for each other.  Community is about belonging to somewhere.  For example when my friends who are away from here – like Toronto or elsewhere – needs my help I go and they do the same to me too.

** I found it interesting that Tamirat never mentioned place as important for community.  This seems to be a common thing for people who have moved a lot.  If you move a lot, community becomes more about the people than the places.

Tamirat: I have noticed that life here in Canada is not as communal as it was back in Kenya.  In Kenya we faced everything together.  Here you don’t know your neighbor where as back in Kenya, if you didn’t go and introduce yourself to your neighbor, within a couple days they would be at your house introducing themselves to you.

**I thought this idea of being expected to introduce yourself when you come to a neighborhood to be very interesting.  In our society, in Canada, there is no expectation to meet your neighbor so most of us do not.


What is a memorable experience of community that you have had?

 Tamirat: My most memorable experience is from when I came to Kenya.  We were a group of student refugees displaced by conflict.  We had all left our families and friends and so we just had each other.  We faced all of this together, which made us close.  When you are building a new home together it makes you very close.

 **The closest I can relate to this is coming to residence in first year because everyone was coming together and building a new home together.  It is amazing how powerful an experience this can be.  However, Tamirat’s experience is much more intense because of how he was moved to a new environment.


What challenges do you see in your community?

 Tamirat: The biggest challenges I see are misunderstandings and miscommunications.   Good communication is key to a healthy community.  Without it, you have conflict.

 At home if a task needs to be done, though the government does some things, the community would get together to do a lot that isn’t being done by the government. Here in Canada the government does this for you.

** This last comment really stuck out in my mind.  It made me realize how much we have become dependent on governments to solve our problems for us instead of solving them ourselves.  It also made me realize how by doing this, we have weakened our communities.  Where I see the strongest communities in my area are where people have taken solving problems into their own hands.  Although it does make me ponder the role of the wellfair state.


What opportunities do you see in your community?

Tamirat: From my experience, the more I interact with my community, the more I learn. There is lots of opportunities to learn, especially from your elders.  This is something that is very important to my culture though I notice you do not do it as much here.  However, how I look at it is that what ever is happening in a community is right for that community.

**The role of elders really struck a cord for me and we ended up having a fairly lengthy conversation about it.  I do understand Tamirat’s point that whatever is happening is what is right for that community, but I do feel we could do a lot better at creating space to learn from the wisdom of our elders.


What have you done to build community in your life?

 Tamirat: You just be a participant and by doing this you become active in the community.


What vision and ideas do you have for building community moving forward?

 Tamirat: Just go with the flow and wherever you go just participate in what is around you.

**I found these last two points he made to also be very interesting.  For Tamirat it is very important that you actively participate in a community.  When I probed him on what he meant by this he simply said, you participate in whatever needs to be done or in whatever is going on and that by doing this you build and strengthen your community.  I felt it was a very simple yet powerful concept.