OpenArmsYYC - A grassroots response to anti-immigrant sentiments in Calgary

Guest Blogger: Danica Strocen was born and raised in Calgary Alberta. She is a recent graduate of Mount Royal University with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Sociology.

Last year, we saw incredible and heart breaking pictures of refugees encountering, succumbing, but often  overcoming to incredible obstacles in their search for a safe and secure haven. In Canada, similar to other parts of the world, we also witnessed a sharp rise in anti-refugee rhetoric. These anti-refugee messages were filled with distrust and fear. Refugees were (and continue to be) being presented as dangerous and detrimental to our way of life.  Amongst this bitter environment, our Mayor, Naheed Nenshi courageously stepped forward and urged Calgarians and rest of Canadians to welcome the incoming refugees with “open arms.”

In the meantime, like many Canadians, I continued with my daily life wondering what I, if anything, could do to help the people fleeing human made and natural disasters.  What can I do myself?  How can I heed Mayor Nenshi’s message of inclusivity and openness? Then suddenly, one discussion in one class gave us an idea of what we could do.  During my SLGY 4731: Feminist Theories course our professor, Dr. Irene Shankar, presented anti-refugee messages as examples of “othering” and racism. Collectively, we discussed other historical moments when the world has witnessed violence against particular groups (such as genocide of Jewish citizens in Europe, Tutsi and Hutu groups in Rwanda and Muslim and Roman Catholic groups in former Yugoslavia) and was either too slow or unresponsive in aiding the affected. Unfortunately, there is a long history of well meaning people looking away or ignoring the plight of those affected during such times of violence and crisis.   

Our class shared their feelings of frustration with the current socio political context and their desire to enact change. We decided that we needed to do something about the negative messages and we needed to take up Mayor Nenshi’s call for an inclusive society. We met many more times discussing what our next steps would be, how we would raise awareness and create education to dispel the myths that were online about the Syrian refugees. We finally came to a plan.

We would first look nationally. We started a fundraising campaign for Medecins Sans Frontier /Doctors Without Borders campaign. The intentions of this campaign was to raise funds for a well known organization that has a solid record of working directly with all vulnerable people all over this planet. Doctors Without Borders helps hurt, injured and sick people in areas of conflict and disaster and we wanted to support it continue this much need work. We linked this fundraising to a welcoming message. We created Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram pages to allow people to post pictures of themselves welcoming refugees with #openarmsyyc signs and donate to Doctors Without Borders. Numerous individuals  across Mount Royal University including students, faculty members, Faculty of Arts Dean (Dr. Jeff Keshen), the Vice-President and  President of MRU, as well as citizens from all over Calgary took pictures of themselves with #openarmsyyc signs and donated to the cause. In addition, we did bake sales and awareness events at MRU campus. In just two weeks we raised $3505 for Doctors Without Borders.

Our second step was to create something more local that would help refugees that were specifically coming to Calgary. We decided to work with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS). We kicked off our campaign on December 20th with a miniatures tournament at a local comic book store. The tournament raised over $200. This sum was donated to Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) to help with refugee resettlement costs.  We will be doing further work with CCIS in 2016.  

If you are interested in finding out more information on our campaign or staying in the loop with our upcoming events like us on Facebook (Open Arms YYC), or follow us on Twitter (@OpenArmsYYC). In the meantime, if you would like – please consider a donation to Doctors Without Borders.


About MRU Sociology Program:

The Mount Royal University Sociology program focuses on a strong foundation in sociological theory, methods, and social inequality including intersections of gender, race, and social class. The Sociology program prepares students for a wide range of careers in, for example, law, corrections, forensics, policing, immigration, social policy, emergency management, mass communication, counseling, human/social services, and public health among others. (Sociology & Anthropology, Mount Royal University, 2016).  

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