Syrian refugees attending Burnsview Secondary will soon be seeing a symbol from their country’s coat of arms on the walls of their school, thanks to a collaborative art project organized by youth counsellor Curtis Joe Miller.
“It was my idea to figure out a way to bridge some of the cultural gaps,” Miller said, “to help them to learn to hang out with other kids. I thought what better way to do it then a carving, to work on a carving together.”
The carving includes both Syrian and Canadian elements: the Hawk of Quarish, a symbol that represents Syria on everything from year-end exams to government emblems; the Syrian flag, pictured in the centre of the hawk’s chest; and traditional First Nations formline art.
“It’s both, so it’s connected together,” Miller said. “Canadian and Syrian.”
The project began in January of 2017, and brought together around 30 different students. Each worked on the carving in small groups over the course of a year, finishing the project in November.
Grade 10 student Ola Khetabi, one of the Syrian students who worked on the project, said the carving was a way “that everyone can know us and get to know us as a Syrian.”
“Because … we’re not really known, they doesn’t really know us in the school,” she said. “They just know that we are refugees and we are going to stay here.”
The students faced struggles during the project, both with the technical execution of the carving as well as with communication.
The lapse in communication can be seen, Miller said, in the Syrian flag on the carving.
The carving’s flag has two stars. The current Syrian flag has three. Less than a decade ago, a third star was added to the flag to represent freedom for the country.
“Later on, as the kids got better at communicating with me, they told me that one day as we were carving,” Miller said. “I was like, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me?’ And they just started laughing.”
A third star was added to the carving, but between the words Burnsview and Syria, rather than on the flag itself.
The project wasn’t all struggle, however. Some of the Syrian students shared a traditional Arabic dance, the dabke, with the Canadian students, “which is exactly what we wanted,” Miller said.
“We have to learn from them too, it’s not just them learning from us. We have to learn from them too because they have a lot to give.”
During Burnsview’s Christmas assembly on Dec. 21, the finished carving was revealed to the school. Soon, it will be hanging on the wall, for everyone to see as they pass by.
“I will be proud of that,” Khetabi said. “We did something for our country.”