Lala arrived last year. Nervous, excited, tentative, wide-eyed. Zena arrived this year, equally nervous but able to benefit from Lala’s reassuring presence. Lala comes from Tajikistan. Zena comes from Syria. Two very different girls from very different countries. But both girls are now part of the Trafalgar Castle sisterhood.
We launched our World of Difference initiative in 2017, committing to bring young girls to the Castle for Grade 11 and 12 in order to prepare them for post-secondary studies that will be supported by our partner organization Spark of Hope Foundation. Each girl for two years, coming from a country where civil unrest, social upheaval, war, terrorism, poverty or social policy limit her opportunities for education. That was our plan, and I’m proud to report we’re seeing it through.
Last week, I had the pleasure of accompanying Lala and Zena to have breakfast with members of the Courtice Rotary Club, a local organization that is committed to supporting challenges both locally and around the world. After breakfast, each girl spoke about her experience coming to a new country. When asked what felt most different about living in Canada, the girls’ answers were both touching and informative.
Lala spoke about the openness and acceptance she finds in Ontario. She talked about the joy of being part of a warm and diverse community, not feeling that she stands out because of her culture, religion or language. She shared that her family are Pamiri, a minority ethnic group in Tajikistan that has its own culture, religion and language. The Pamiri people experience discrimination in their own country, and Lala is particularly sensitive to the importance of free speech, civil rights and social equality. She talked about her love for Canada, and how she now sees it as a very different country from the United States, a difference she didn’t understand prior to her arrival.
Zena talked about the tentative joy she felt walking down the sidewalk by herself for the very first time. She explained that, in Syria, she wasn’t allowed to leave her house unaccompanied. Her hometown of Salamieh is under the control of government armed forces, and although it has largely been spared from major bombings, it nonetheless remains a dangerous place to live. As a young child, beloved violin lessons had to be abandoned because travel to the music teacher’s house became too difficult . She recalled the excitement she felt In Grade 4 as her first field trip neared, only to be disappointed when the outbreak of civil war made school outings too dangerous. Next year, her father promised. Seven years later, Zena travelled with our boarding program to Ottawa over the Thanksgiving long weekend. It was the first field trip of her life.
Both girls talked about how different it feels to learn in a Canadian classroom. Lala was educated in Russian with methods from the former Soviet Union. Zena was educated in Arabic in classrooms overflowing with displaced refugees from other parts of Syria. In both cases, students sat in rows and followed along as the teacher instructed the class. There was little group discussion, limited participation and never any question that the teacher was right. Lessons were taught and memorized. Politics was never discussed, and the expression of independent thought came with great personal risk.
In Trafalgar’s classrooms, the girls found lively discussion and frequent debate. Each was initially taken aback and unsure of the “rules”. But in no time at all, they learned that questions are a good thing, critical thinking is safe and teachers sometimes make mistakes (and it’s okay to point these out!). They even learned that desks don’t stay in rows and learning can take place outside.
Lest it sound as if the Trafalgar community is giving and not receiving, let me share what Lala and Zena bring to our school and why we are better for their presence. We are learning about their culture. We are learning words of their language. We are supported by their volunteerism, inspired by their creativity, and enriched by their keen minds. In this, they are typical Trafalgar girls – two of 228 amazing young women who live and learn together at the Castle.
I know that Lala and Zena are going to make a World of Difference one day. I believe that every Trafalgar girl will do the same, each in her own way and in her own time. And I know that with each new girl we bring into our community, we are strengthening the fabric of the Trafalgar Castle sisterhood – a sisterhood that reaches around the world, — a sisterhood that, together, can make the world a better place.
If you would like to support next year’s student, please make a World of Difference here.