British Columbia

Immigrant mother will share story of raising tolerant children at Michelle Obama's Vancouver talk

Nesreen Nassleh, an immigrant mother who moved to Vancouver from Syria, used to watch Michelle Obama’s speeches and admire the former U.S. first lady for her empowering messages to women.

Nesreen Nassleh will be speaking about her experience raising 4 children in a multicultural community

Nesreen Nassleh is Palestinian but lived in Syria, where she worked as a biomedical engineer before moving to Canada. She's opening Michelle Obama's event in Vancouver on March 21. (Submitted by Nesreen Nassleh)

Nesreen Nassleh, an immigrant mother who moved to Vancouver from Syria, used to watch Michelle Obama's speeches and admire the former U.S. first lady for her empowering messages to women.

Now, Nassleh is helping spread that message herself.

She's opening the show for Obama's talk in Vancouver at Rogers Arena on Thursday evening, one of five women sharing their stories with the audience.

"Every time I saw her on television, I felt, 'That's a woman who is empowering all women,'" Nassleh said.

"And I was lucky enough to have this chance to go to her event."

Nassleh will be speaking about her experience as an immigrant mother in Canada and how she's raising her four children in a multicultural community.

"I'm teaching them to be respectful and accept all religions and culture in this country," she told CBC's The Early Edition.

"[But also] so they are proud of their religion and their culture."

Nesreen Nassleh with her family. Her children are 14, 11, six and three-and-a-half. (Submitted by Nesreen Nassleh)

'We try to meet in the middle'

Nassleh, who is originally Palestinian but worked as a biomedical engineer in Syria, moved to Canada in 2005.

Her four children, two boys and two girls who range in age from 14 to three-and-a-half, were all born here.

"They are Canadian," she said.

"Sometimes, I feel like I'm talking in a way and they are in different ways, but we try to meet in the middle."

It's important for Nassleh to make sure her children learn Arabic and attend Islamic studies classes. But, at the same time, she wants them to fit in with their friends and the wider community.

"That's how we try to keep our culture and religion while also embracing other cultures and religions," she said.  

Former first lady Michelle Obama is in Vancouver this week for a event called "Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama." Five women, including Nesreen Nassleh, will share their stories. (Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images)

Facing intolerance

Her family hasn't faced any Islamophobia, she said, but it's something she's discussed with her children after the terrorist attacks on a mosque in New Zealand last week. Fifty people were killed while they prayed.

"It was awful and very painful for everybody to see that," Nassleh said.

"I told my children … you never can fight hate with hate. We fight hate with love and forgiveness."

If the day ever comes when her children face discrimination or hate speech, she has a message for them:

"I tell them that this is the person's problem; whoever does this is flawed," she said.

"It's not the whole community or the whole area we live in."

Nesreen Nassleh, an immigrant mother who moved to Vancouver from Syria, used to watch Michelle Obama's speeches and admire the former U.S. First Lady for her empowering messages to women. 6:51

With files from The Early Edition