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A fusion of cultural inclusion marks Digby Regional High School’s cultural summit


There is a big sound coming out of a small room.

You can almost feel a rumble go through your body.

Drummer Patrick Jarvis is teaching students about drumming. He’s already explained about how he makes the drums. Now it is time for them to play something together.

It’s loud. It’s quiet.

It’s slow. It’s fast.

It’s tricky. It’s easier.

It’s out-of-synch. It’s in synch.

This was one of several breakout sessions that was part of a cultural summit, hosted by Digby Regional High School (DRHS) on May 7. Organization of the summit was also aided by the Fundy YMCA Centre for Immigration, the Digby and Area Community Health Board and the Tri-County Regional Centre for Education.

The purpose of the event was to boost learning opportunities about different cultures around the world that are becoming more visible in the province’s rural communities. The summit even included an opportunity for students to sample dishes from around the world and maybe discover a taste for a specific country.

After this, students took part in different workshop sessions. In a session she led, one of the things Barb Roberts introduced students to was different head dresses.

She explained and also demonstrated how people of African descent, as an example, use head dresses, both for practical purposes but also a way to connect to their heritage.

Tareq Hadhad, the co-founder of Peace by Chocolate, was the keynote speaker of the day and brought his message of resilience to the students. He spoke about the life and death struggles Syrian refugees like his family experienced or witnessed and about how they have since created a new life for themselves in Canada.

“You really don’t know where your path will take you,” he told the students. “It’s all about accepting your destiny, embracing opportunities.”

THE IDEA BEHIND THE SUMMIT

Lindsay Longmire, who’s with the Fundy YMCA, said prior to the summit being held that people can be friendly toward new people in the area, but still shy away from really getting to know them.

“Especially when people look different, for example. When you are the only female Arabic student in a population of 400, they may not understand why you wear a hijab or even why you left your own country,” she said, adding the biggest part of her role with the YMCA Centre for Immigrant Programs is fostering positive relationships.

“Even myself, I have a hard time being on [social media] these days and seeing the negative spins on immigration and people using the system. They see it on a meme and they believe it and it causes tension.”

As a former co-ordinator with the Digby Area Learning Association, Longmire works closely with students in the O2 program at DRHS.

“Grade 9 is a really good target age to bring up these topics. By the time you get to Grade 12, you’ve developed your mindset,” she said.

Fadi Hamdan, who arrived from Jordan just more than a decade ago, now does outreach across the province, working with people of all ages on topics like cultural competency and fitting in through the YMCA’s Centre for Immigration in Halifax.

“When new people come to live here, there are lots of things they have to learn about Canadian culture. But it’s also what we can learn about them, about how to be an ally and how we can be more welcoming,” said Hamdan.

“If we see someone from a different culture or looks different, we can ask more questions and get to know them instead of coming forward with judgments,” he said. “Invite them to your house or to your meals or to have a coffee to build a better understanding of each other. In the end, we are all human. There are just differences in how we look or how we live.”

Aya Kenaan and Rima Kenaan were among those who participated in the cultural summit, providing a sampling of some of the cuisine offered by Kenaan’s Kitchen in Digby. where food from Syria is served, such as curry, shawarma, tabouli and a lot of different desserts. TINA COMEAU
Aya Kenaan and Rima Kenaan were among those who participated in the cultural summit, providing a sampling of some of the cuisine offered by Kenaan’s Kitchen in Digby. where food from Syria is served, such as curry, shawarma, tabouli and a lot of different desserts. TINA COMEAU

STUDENT INVOLVEMENT

DRHS Grade 9 student Aya Kenaan helped Longmire in organizing the summit. Her parents run Kenaan’s Kitchen in Digby and they provided popular food from Syria, such as curry, shawarma, tabouli and a lot of different desserts that can be found at local farmers markets. Kenaan said it’s important to her to teach others not just about her culture, but for them to learn about many cultures.

“I get asked a lot why I wear a scarf around my head. I do it for religion because I believe I should,” she said. “We only have two holidays in our culture and we have a month that we fast that is in May (Ramadan) that I would like people to know about.”

Grade 11 student Molly MacNaughton also helped to organize the summit’s art contest based on the theme of cultural acceptance.

“I think the summit will influence more students and help them to be more accepting people for who they are,” she said.

School principal Darrell Richardson hopes the summit will be an event they can build on every year so that students can appreciate the diversity they have.

“I believe this summit for us represents a turning point, where we as a school will be really putting an emphasis on being culturally responsive. I hope this event will help [make] our school a safe and inclusive environment.”

Richardson said that when students and staff feel connected, they feel supported and valued, leading to increased motivation and achievement.

“The message I want for my students is to keep working and fighting through adversity and challenges and that hard work always pays off.”

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