On June 20, 2019, Lethbridge Family Services hosted a potluck celebration at Southminster United Church to commemorate World Refugee Day.

“Today, we are reminded to honour the courage, strength, and determination of women, men, and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict, and violence,” Nickolej Villiger, the Education, Outreach, and Event Coordinator for the Immigrant Department in Lethbridge Family Services, said.

According to Villiger, Lethbridge Family Services has hosted World Refugee Day celebrations for over 10 years. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Villiger says, has declared that 2018 has the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons ever. Villiger added that we don’t take time to think about or acknowledge such information in our day to day lives, but we should.

“World Refugee Day is a reminder that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’,” Villiger said. “There is only one human family connected in ways that we often dismiss or forget. Days like today are so vital in raising awareness about how many people beyond our own border are facing unfathomable circumstances.”

Villiger said that UNCHR officially declared June 20th to be World Refugee Day in an effort to raise awareness and inform the public about refugees and displaced people worldwide. This year’s world theme, Villiger said, is Cities with Refugees and it is a campaign that invites cities and officials all over the world who are working to promote inclusion, support refugees, and bring communities together to sign a statement of solidarity #WithRefugees.

“Lethbridge Family Services, however, chose the theme ‘Break Bread With Newcomers’ for our 2019 event,” Villiger said. “As we reflect on the transitionary period of leaving one place and joining another, one thing that binds us all together is the love of good food. Together, we can share a table, share stories, and welcome newcomers into our community. “

Following brief greetings from Lethbridge Family Services personnel and City of Lethbridge Councillor Belinda Crowson,  the crowd enjoyed a potluck dinner consisting of foods from all over the world. Near the end of dinner, Villiger shared about two foreign youths who were able to attend and graduate high school because of help from the John and Barbara Warren Scholarship.

Once dinner was completed, a Palenstinian dance group called Mawtini performed a few numbers and then everyone was invited to participate in cultural dancing. Mawtini, Villiger said, is an Arabic word that means Homeland. Prizes were also raffled off throughout the evening. 

“Let us take time to recognize and draw inspiration from these ordinary people who have shown extraordinary courage,” Villiger said. “We are fortunate to have all of you grace our beautiful city, expand our diversity, and gift us with your presence.”

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