Mohamed Jamal Alsharif

Bringing the beauty and strength of Canadian multiculturalism to newcomers

For the last three years, Mohd Jamal Alsharif has worked with a group of mostly Syrian refugees in Ottawa, trying so hard to make them realize that they are part of the Canadian community and helping them to overcome the cultural differences and challenges they have experienced as newcomers.

As someone who immigrated to Canada many years ago, he can relate to the newcomer’s journey. Through his work with the Humans for Peace Institution, Jamal has helped many families to better understand the Canadian system and how to integrate in their new country.

“I met Jamal a year ago, through a choir formed by the Humans for Peace Institution and World Folk Music Ottawa,” says Yusra Almosuli. “It was extraordinary. It didn’t matter what language you sang in, everyone came together through music and multiculturalism. There were people from Syria, Africa and Asia, Canada and elsewhere, all singing together in one voice.”

Yusra, who came from Iraq a year ago to work as a research associate at the Ottawa Hospital, further explains how many newcomers are confused and not aware of the resources available in their community. “Jamal helps us. I see in him generosity, kindness and the courage to help others. He knows what newcomers have been through, the social issues and the problems. He knows what to do to make things easier, as integration is not always easy.”

“I believe that if we live in a multicultural society, we have the power to bring social and inner peace to the forefront,” says Jamal. “Every human being can be peacemaker. We don’t need to differentiate between gender, culture and language — as we are all essentially one family. Through the Humans of Peace Institution , we bring people together through what can connect us, such as culture, art, music and food.”

Jamal describes how his organization recently hosted a Canadian wide blood donation campaign, where Syrian newcomers from across Canada gave back to the country that had welcomed them. “Through this and many other activities, we aim to engage newcomers within the main stream community, so they can help, give back and volunteer, and feel proud of themselves. When this happens, the newcomers feel like they are part of society. Refugees are not just numbers, they are humans and can do a lot.”

Jamal believes that beyond settlement services, newcomers can be supported in their integration by removing cultural barriers. “The beauty and strength of Canada is our multiculturalism,” adds Jamal. “We succeed when we all see ourselves as an integral part of this diverse and rich community, when we wish to others what we wish for ourselves. “

Jamal is particularly touched by the struggles faced by children and youth from war torn countries like Syria, as many of them have post-traumatic stress disorder when they arrive in Canada. “We want to do everything we can to help these young people to heal,” says Jamal. “Often they don’t want to talk about their struggles, so we provide them with alternative ways to express themselves — through singing, painting and dancing. It is so encouraging when we see their smiles.” “We also work hard to empower newcomer women and try to encourage them to start their new life here in Canada”. He is struck by the power of art to help the children to heal and remembers seeing the graphic paintings children have done depicting their lives during war.

Through the Humans for Peace Institution, a group of refugee children have fundraised and on National Indigenous Day (June 21), as part of Welcoming Ottawa Week 2018, they will present a cheque to the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre.