Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Art of “Passage(s)”

Aside from brainstorming ideas through theatre and music, visual art was also a key part of the making of “Passages: A Moving Experience.”  Click on the picture link below and walk with Melis, the co-visual art director at this year’s Peace Camp, as she describes some of the art that was part of this production.







The “Lost Generation” of Syrian Children

Among Syria’s children, anger, lost hope and sometimes newfound happiness

Photo: Moustafa Cheaiteli/IRIN: Children stretch before class at Najda Now

SHATILA CAMP, LEBANON, 30 July 2013 (IRIN) – The conflict in Syria has killed more than 6,500 children, turned nearly one million into refugees, and left three million inside Syria in need of aid. Some have been disabled, mutilated, sexually abused, tortured in government detention and recruited by armed groups, at as young as age 12. Many have been deprived of their education. Many more have witnessed violence.

“Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict.” – Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director.

After a recent trip to Syria and its neighbouring countries, Leila Zerrougui, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said she was “overwhelmed” by what she saw.“Children in Syria not only are affected [by the violence on a] daily basis – they have lost their family, they have lost their house – but they lost … hope. They are full of anger. And if this continues, we will face a generation of illiterates,” she told a press conference.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) worries Syria’s children could become “a lost generation”.

In Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands have sought refuge, the NGO Najda Now helps children recover from trauma through theatre and art. Usually, children’s drawings are dark in colour and theme when they first arrive; they become more colorful and positive over time. Most of the time, children draw two things: what they want and what they are afraid of.

IRIN visited Najda Now’s ‘s psychosocial support centre “Tomorrow is Ours”. Here are a few of the children we met.

Ahmed, nine, left Homs because of intense air bombing. He spent some two years in Syria amid the conflict; and this environment became normal for him. He talked about it as if it was just a movie. He was lucky enough not to have seen any violence himself, but had some temporary trauma when he arrived in Lebanon one month ago, psychologists said, mostly linked to noises. In Syria, he lived in a village in the countryside, with vast open spaces. Now, he lives in the crowded Shatila camp for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Ahmed drew what he wants: a spacious house, a dog, and the sea.


IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Ahmed: Because of the war.

What happened?
They hit with planes and cannons.

Do you have friends here in Lebanon?
Ahmad does not answer; he seems stressed by the question.

How do you like it here?
I prefer Syria, because in Syria I have a lot of friends.

What do you remember from Syria?
Before, when there was no war, I could go wherever I wanted and I liked it. Here in Lebanon, when I go out, my Mum is stressed. Before, when there was no war in Syria, and I went out, I had freedom.


Sohah, 12, says she is happy in Lebanon. The centre’s theatre classes have helped her decompress from the stress of seeing guns being shot in the air and people being transported by ambulances. Her Palestinian parents settled in the southern Syrian town of Dera’a when they sought refuge themselves decades earlier. Now, they are displaced once more. She arrived in Lebanon four months ago.


IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Sohah: There were a lot of problems.

Which kind of problems?
A lot of bombs and clashes with guns.

What do you like to do here in the centre?
I like to draw; I like to do theatre; I like to study. What I like the most is the theatre.

Tell us about your drawing.
This is us when we were acting. Me and my friends are singing. I wrote the song that we were singing.

What is the song about?
It says we want peace; we want to go back to our country; we don’t want war any more.

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to be an actress, famous around the whole world.


When Ashraf, eight, arrived at the centre from Hama six months ago, he was aggressive and fought with other children. Psychologists attribute this to what he saw and heard in Syria and stress likely passed down from his parents. Ashraf has not drawn anything; instead he is making a worm out of playdough.


IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Ashraf: The government attacked the revolutionaries at the entrance of the town. We knew that the others [the rebels] would be upset and answer, and that they [the government] would attack the whole city. And that’s what ended up happening.

What do you miss about Syria?
In Syria, I played with the computer.

But here in the centre there is a computer room.
Yes, but in Syria I had a computer at home and I could play.

And here, what do you like to play?

Do you have a drawing to show us?
No, I don’t like to draw. I don’t like playdough either. I like to play ball.


Faysal’s mother is a nurse. She used to treat people in their home in Rural Damascus. So by the time the 11-year-old came to Lebanon nine months ago, he had seen many corpses, including his uncle who was shot dead by a sniper on a rooftop.


IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Faysal: I came to Lebanon because there were attacks in my village.

Who do you live with?
My grandmother, my grandfather, my mother, my aunt, my other aunt and her husband, my other grandfather. My uncle was a martyr. Also there are two children on my dead uncle’s side, and two children on my other uncle’s side. I have a little sister. She’s three years old and when she is big enough, I want her to join me at school.

What do you miss about Syria?
My friends, my house, and my uncle.

What do you prefer: Syria or Lebanon?
I grew up in Syria, I prefer Damascus, but here I like the theatre. I prefer here for the theatre because there it didn’t exist. In Damascus, I didn’t know how to sing. Now, I can rap.

Can you tell us about your drawing?
I drew it based on a picture; we copied a photo. My drawings were in an exhibition and I sold two of my three drawings. The girl, she’s a princess.

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to be a painter.

Last day(s) of Peace Camp & Rehearsals for P(erformance) Day!

Friendship, sharing, prop-making, compassion, posing, hard work and much more went into the rehearsals for the final performance(s) of  “Passage: A Moving Experience“. Check out the photos from these process(es) below!

Check out the Toronto Star’s write up on Peace Camp!

Toronto summer camp theatre explores the journey of young migrants

The struggles and hopes of being a young immigrant unfold at Toronto Children’s Peace Theatre.
Sirak Tesfu, 19, from Eritrea, and Rosa Solorzano, 18, from El Salvador, both participate in the Children's Peace Theatre's gala production, Passage: A Moving Experience.


Sirak Tesfu, 19, from Eritrea, and Rosa Solorzano, 18, from El Salvador, both participate in the Children’s Peace Theatre’s gala production, Passage: A Moving Experience. Article accessed from here

By: Immigration reporter, Published on Tue Jul 23 2013.


A teenage boy from Eritrea recalls the awkwardness of reuniting with his father, whom he had not seen for 13 years.

A young woman from Antigua remembers the cold reception she got when she returned to Canada, the birthplace she was scooped away from as a toddler.

A refugee girl from El Salvador is afraid of bonding with others because of the experience of losing friends when she moves again.

All three are members of the Toronto Children’s Peace Theatre summer camp this year, and their stories, along with others, will be part of the group’s performance, Passage: A Moving Experience, which debuts Thursday at the Dawes Rd. theatre.

Through art installations, such as a bed-spring sculpture about “home,” to song compositions with lyrics about migration and storytelling, the youth and their professional artist mentors will explore the young migrants’ journeys, struggles, challenges, hopes and dreams.

“It feels good to get these stories out there so people know what we have gone through to be here,” said Sirak Tesfu, 19, who, along with his mother and little sister, was separated from his father, a refugee, as a kid before joining him here two years ago. They came from Eritrea via Sudan.

“I only knew my father by phone. It was strange to see him.”

Now in its 13th year, the theatre’s summer camp chose to produce a show about youth migrants after one of its artists had his refugee claim rejected and was deported to Mexico last fall.

“Born in Canada, I grew up at a time when we were making strides in humanitarian causes, but our immigration and refugee system has drastically changed in recent years. Canadians can’t be proud of what’s happening,” said the theatre’s artistic director, Karen Emerson.

“These stories need to be told. These voices need to be heard.”

In the past, the theatre and its campers have tackled various social justice themes, with shows about food security (“Eat It Up”) and child soldier/labour (“Up In Arms”).

Unlike Tesfu, who spoke Tigrinya and must learn English from scratch, Amber Williams-King faces no language barrier. Born in Toronto, she was taken to Antigua at age 2 but returned alone four years ago.

“I was a citizen, but people saw me as a foreigner. English is my first language, but I had to change my accent so people could understand me,” said the 23-year-old.

“We need to create a sense of understanding of the different people who make up Canada, accepting and appreciating the differences. Canadians have the responsibility to live up to its name as a multicultural mosaic.”

Rosa Solorzano and her family fled El Salvador for the U.S. before arriving in Toronto two years ago. She said she always isolated herself from others because she hated the experience of leaving her friends behind. But the summer camp has brought out her inner self.

“It sucks when you can’t bond with people. You just don’t know when you have to move again,” said Solorzano, 18, who graduated from high school but cannot go on to higher education because her family is still waiting for a refugee hearing.

“I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying this. I am learning something new and the kids just have so much energy and so many great ideas.

What are your thoughts on this article? Feel free to share them below!

Music soundscapes from “Passage: A Moving Experience”

Taken from a music class that the campers had on July 22nd 2013, here is a glimpse of some of the music that will be featured in this year’s peace camp final performance. Watch also as jazz maestro Brownman Ali collaborates with the students and also pushes them to explore the intricacies of music. In addition, please listen to the important lyrics that depict many of the struggles that are often part of the migration experience; experiences which will be expressed quite magically by the youth in “Passage: A Moving Experience.”

Below are details of the upcoming performances of “Passage: A Moving Experience.”

Saturday, July 27th 2013
5pm followed by a reception
$25 Adults $15 Students & Seniors $10 Children 13 and under

Thursday, July 25th & Friday, July 26th

Performed at the beautiful amphitheatre in the woods at the Children’s Peace Theatre 305 Dawes Road (or at Harmony Hall at 2 Gower Street if weather does not permit an outdoor show).

For tickets call 416 752 1550. Or email

For more information, go to

Check out some of the images from week 2 & 3 of Peace Camp!

Much work has gone in to the final weeks of peace camp. Much art, music and theatre and, above all, much sharing, collaboration and co-creation. Check out some of the images from week 2 and early week 3  of Peace Camp. Enjoy!

“Migrant Dreams” documentary delves into temporary foreign worker issue in Canada

Originally accessed @


Award-winning filmmaker Min Sook Lee’s Migrant Dreams documentary project has a deep connection to her past — her Korean parents emigrated to Canada in the early 1970s and her father did menial labour, including picking worms, in order to provide for the family.

“I appreciate the struggle,” says Lee. “There was a lot of anxiety because we were poor and new to the country, so I’m very sensitized to issues of migration, acculturation and diaspora.”

Fast-track to 2013 and Lee (whose 2003 NFB film about Mexican farm labourers in Ontario, El Contrato, nabbed a Gemini nomination) is chronicling the hardships of Thai women who pick worms as part of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Her film also includes workers from other countries. The Toronto-based director is well aware of the differences between her father’s position and those of migrant workers today.

“My dad had a pathway to citizenship and security… but now, instead of a citizenship program, we have an expanded temporary worker program denying most of these people access to citizenship.”

The current program allows workers from any country outside Canada to be employed for up to four years — at which point they are required to return to their homeland for four years before being allowed to work under the program again.

While these workers toil in fields, factories and coffee shops, many are denied basic human rights such as access to proper health care, and don’t get raises or vacation pay. Having paid into the CPP and EI programs through their wages, they are unable to reap the benefits as they are either ineligible or find navigating the bureaucracy too daunting to get the money they earned.

“In 2002, we had over 100,000 people under this program, but in 2012, it hit 300,000,” notes Lee. “The Harper government has taken the concept and exponentially increased the number of guest workers with very little public debate.”

RBC involved in controversy

In fact, a debate did spark up recently after news reports emerged in April that Canada’s biggest bank, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), was in the process of replacing dozens of its employees in the IT department with temporary foreign workers.

Those temporary workers came from a multinational outsourcing firm from India — iGATE Corp.

“[The program] gives businesses a loophole. They have a profit-driven agenda,” says Lee. “The program is largely unmonitored so it’s open to abuse. It’s designed for systemic exploitation.”

Lee wants Canadians to realize that the temporary worker’s program — as it exists now — should be a concern for everyone, regardless if they work  in “3-D” (Dirty, Dangerous, Difficult) jobs or not.

A photo still from the Migrant Dreams documentary.

“It lowers the standards for all workers. There’s no incentive for employers to make jobs more competitive.”

Under the program, businesses apply to the federal government’s program by indicating that they tried but can’t find Canadian workers to fulfill positions. They are then given a special permit — which Lee says is issued “pretty non-discriminately” — to find workers from any country. The program is privatized in that agreements are made between private companies and not between governments.

This is where brokers come in: “They say, ‘Who do you want? Men, women? Jamaicans, Vietnamese, Mexicans?'”

These workers are only allowed to work for one employer and should they leave that employer, many are beholden to the broker for another job.

“As soon as they arrive, the broker picks them up and takes them to a house. He’s their de facto landlord. The broker manages the transportation from the home to the work site.”

Some of these workers — essentially, the world’s poor — have paid as much as $10,000 to a broker and arrive heavily indebted to them while working in Canada.

Indiegogo funding drive

To make the film a reality, Lee has turned to an Indiegogo campaign to raise her own funds. Although she has some network interest (namely TVOntario), with the current funding maze that is documentary today, it’s hard for any filmmaker to get all the money needed.

A moment during filming.

The director has already finished a quick five-day development shoot but she wants to raise about $15,000 in order to keep filming this summer. Lee is following a human rights case involving Thai and Mexican women.

“Their employer put them in housing not fit for humans. The women were sexually assaulted by the owner of the business,” says Lee. “He threatened to cut off their fingers if they signed a petition against him.’

The day I spoke with Lee, she had just found out some of the women were afraid to testify and might not take the stand.

“Fear, intimidation and bullying” are common, according to Lee.

“They’re afraid to speak out.”

Fortunately, the next week, she was told the women are re-considering and may testify.

Circling back to her immigrant roots, the film is Lee’s way of calling to attention to Canada’s immigration policy — pathways which are becoming more restrictive.

“Canada’s criteria are now about money, education and language,” she says. “A specific class of people, who are mostly poor and non-white, are now being streamed in as permanent guest workers. In the past, they might have been immigrants.”

Lee is determined to finish the documentary, whether or not she gets broadcaster backing.

“There is less of a climate of tolerance in Canada compared to 10 years ago,” she observes.

“I see a lot of immigrant-bashing… we are living in culturally conservative times. When you look at Canada’s immigration history — the way Chinese railway workers were treated and the Head Tax, etc. — we should be ashamed.”

“Yet, we are re-living those times again today… I want to live in a Canada that reflects what I believe our country to be: just, equitable and humane.”

June Chua is a Toronto-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for

What does a day @ Peace Camp look like?

This years focus on migration allows that discussions that inquire into  ” Where am I from?”, “Who belongs in Canada”? and “What does it mean to be Canadian/an immigrant?” abound. Informed by diverse experiences from places such as Tajikistan and Eritrea which contribute to these processes, these interrogations are expressed and explored through music, theatre, brainstorming, storytelling and even meditation!

Check out below what a day @ peace camp looks like!

Music with Brownman Ali



Important discussions on (im)migration — forced and otherwise

Brainstorming why people leave

Brainstorming why people leave

Guest Speakers! Check out storytelling & Music with Rosary Spence – July 10/2013

And the customary breath of peace (bop) at the end of the day!

Don’t you want to be part of peace camp next year?