Monday, July 27 was warm, as you’d expect on a summer day in Edmonton. In the open space of the Multicultural Women and Seniors Services Association (MWSSA) in Mill Woods, it was especially so – and not just because of the sunlight streaming in through the large windows.
That afternoon, participants of the Reflections storytelling project gathered to eat, share stories, and create art, and the genuine affection they had for each other and their work warmed the room. These participants, all seniors of South Asian descent from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, first came together in 2014 as part of a literary storytelling circle. It was an idea cooked up by the MWSSA’s executive director, Sofia Yaqub, and Creative Age Society. Both wanted to showcase the incredible talent, life stories, and hard-won experiences of these individuals who have made Edmonton home.
Through these sessions the participants – who for the time being prefer to be anonymous – shared stories on five topics: childhood, marriage, parenting, their immigration journey, building community, and values. On July 27th, with the help of Parker Thiessen, we captured snippets of some of these stories on tape. Once they are edited and approved, they will be shared more widely so these stories of hope, humour and wisdom can warm the hearts of Edmontonians – and all Canadians.
When the dozen or so participants of the “Reflections” (as it’s known) project gathered on July 27, 2015, they not only came to share stories and discuss the transcript of their five storytelling sessions, they came armed with heirlooms, art supplies, and photos.
Many of the seniors at the Multicultural Women and Seniors Services Association are talented artists. Some have been honing their craft for years, while others recently took up pens, paintbrushes, knitting needles or embroidery thread. They displayed some of their newest creations on tables in the centre of the space while they worked hard to add finishing touches to paintings, or make more art cards to sell for charity.
Some participants also brought black and white photos of far-away marriage ceremonies from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the special jewellery and clothing they wore on these occasions. Others brought ceremonial objects – objets d’art, really – and explained their histories and uses.
FO Photography was on hand for the full three hours to document the event – everything from the people, to the art, to the heirlooms, to the food! Funmi Omotade-Tan created an immediate rapport with the participants and they loved having her there to capture the special moments of the afternoon.
Neither Parker Thiessen (videographer) nor Funmi had ever worked on a heritage project before, and neither had spent much time working with the South Asian community in Mill Woods. They both expressed how much they enjoyed this work, how much they learned, and how they hope they can use their talents to help share these lesser-known Edmonton stories going forward.
© 2016 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail