Students of Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School welcomed back a former student on a day when the weather was bright and sunny enough to attract anyone outdoors. The students however spent the afternoon in the school’s auditorium ready to listen to a former student speak on why immigration matters.
The guest speaker, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is an alumnus of the school.
“This school is really very special,” said the minister in his opening of the talk about why Immigration Matters.
The school no doubt helped Minister Hussen settle in Canada. He came to Canada as a 16-year-old refugee. “From morning to evening this was my second home.”
Being a newcomer in a new environment can be challenging, he noted.
“You are leaving your home, you are leaving your friends, and you are leaving your country and environment in which you are comfortable. You are moving to a place where you do not know anyone and you have to figure things out.”
He recalled benefiting from Canadian generosity the second day after arrival in Canada. He was trying to mail a letter to his mother and could not figure out how to put the letters in the mailbox, as this was his first experience of seeing a mailbox.
A lady passing by took the letter from him, opened the lever of the box, shoved the letter and closed the lid and remarked, “This is how you do it.”
The second experience of figuring out how things are done in his new home is when he wanted to use the laundry machine at a laundry mart. He was told the machine needed loonie coin. He could not understand why he needed a loonie to operate the washer in the laundry mart. A loonie is a Canadian dollar coin whereas looney is a word in British English used to describe one who has a mental issue.
The minister noted that small acts of kindness and understanding shown towards newcomers would go a long way in assisting them settle in Canada.
He advised the students to dream big. He recalled that his field and track team bought his first winter jacket. “I did not realize how cold Canada could be,” said the minister. “They pulled their resources together and bought the winter jacket for me.”
On reason for running for political office, he said he found out that many resources that helped him settle in Canada were being cut by the government and he decided he would not stand by but run for office to make a difference.
His decision to run for public office resulted in being elected into the Parliament and becoming a cabinet minister responsible for settlement of refugees.
“Dream bigger than my dream,” he said.
Yahaya Mohamed, 17, Somali born student and one of the moderators of the talk was impressed about the success of the visiting alumnus. “I am a Somali and I grew up in Canada. Many of my friends have no jobs but when I see a person like Ahmed Hussen, I see somebody like myself who want to be a lawyer or politician and help people. I realize that I have hope in the system.”
Yahaya Mohamed was not happy with the closure of his school and another predominantly black school. “The new schools are cool but it seems they are closing down a lot of history.”
“Two things that hold our communities together are the school and the downtown mosque,” he noted.
The principal, Barry Smith told mosaicedition.ca he was impressed at the turnout noting that the students converged on the auditorium effortlessly instead of going outside to enjoy the warm spring weather.
Barry Smith believed the minister conveyed very well his message of hope and hard work.
Minister Hussen speaks three languages: English, Somali, and Swahili and currently learning French. He noted that his knowledge of English language helped him to settle faster in Canada.
A student wanted to know what a new student should do to feel comfortable in Canada. “Make friends, join the track and fields team or join the debating society,” replied Minister Hussen. He encouraged the students to join the debating society to build their confidence in public speaking and maybe down the road become a politician.
On his feelings about being the first Somali politician elected into the House of Commons, he said, “When I hear that, I always correct people and say I am the first cabinet minister from Africa. Africa has 54 countries. Of course I am proud of my heritage, but I am the first cabinet minister born in Africa.”
“I think that really speaks to Canada and the vision of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who chose to surround himself with a diversified cabinet.”
“There are two groups of politicians,” he stated. Those who grew up wanting to be politician and folks like himself who just found themselves in politics.
Sir John A. Macdonald, along with Delta Secondary School, will be closing at the end of the 2018-19 school year.