Nova Scotia

Syrian newcomers say thank you with acting, song and dance

Cultural performance planned for Thursday at Dalhousie

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Proceeds from the show at Dalhousie University go to Habitat for Humanity, because participants know what it's like to have no home. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

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Some Syrian newcomers in Nova Scotia have found a special way to give back to their adopted community: by singing, acting and dancing during a public celebration of their traditional culture.

The event, called Shokran Canada — which means, "Thank you Canada," in Arabic — will take place Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Dalhousie University student union building in Halifax.

Almost 20 performers are involved, with ages ranging from 15 to 30.

Mohammad Harb, who came to Canada from Syria almost a year ago, came up with the idea for the show.

"When I came here, people were so kind and helpful, and not just to me, but to all the Syrians and refugees," Harb said. "So I felt that thanking them in this way is the least I can do."

Cultural performance Syrian newcomers Dalhousie University

The performance, called Shokran Canada, means "thank you Canada" in Arabic. (CBC News)

A play

When he was living at a refugee camp in Jordan, Harb ran his own theatre group. Harb's plays dealt with the harsh realities of life as a refugee, and he made a point of including youth in his performances. 

Harb has written a play for the Halifax event as well, with the goal of shedding light on the struggles Syrian newcomers face dealing with language barriers and culture shock.

"I want people to realize that even though our cultures and way of life [are] different we're still able to live harmoniously and understand each other," he said.

One example Harb gave centred on how people are not encouraged to have pets in the Middle East.

In his play, there is a scene where some young Syrian girls come across a dog and are frightened. By the end of the scene, the girls have befriended the dog, realizing it's normal and encouraged in Canadian society.

Traditional dance

Another central part of the show is a traditional dance with shields and swords, called the Arada.

Harb said the dance originated in Damascus thousands of years ago and is only performed on happy and important occasions — such as a wedding or the opening of a new business — as a way of blessing it.

"For us Syrians to be in Canada and to be able to start a new, safe life is considered a happy occasion and something that is worth celebrating and blessing," he said.

Proceeds donated

Yasser Alkayale, founder of the Syrian Student Society at Dalhousie University, which is helping to promote the show, said all proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Habitat for Humanity — an organization that builds affordable housing for low-income families.

He said the charity was the right fit.

"The Syrian refugees who came here didn't have homes and were living in refugee camps over in Jordan," Alkayale said. "So now after the community helped them find homes, they want to help build homes for others."

Tickets for the show can be purchased at eventbrite.com.

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