A week ago NOW Magazine ran a series of cover stories - Tamils around the world, from ordinary people to filmmakers, to public figures, sharing their stories of perseverance. A lot of them hit a little too close to home. Today, I want to share mine with you.
I came to Canada when I was quite young. I remember very little about it, as I was only
three years old. My parents decided on a whim that they would leave everything and everyone behind to ensure my brother and I would grow up in a safe country. We fled to the UK first, where we had some family, and from there my parents had to decide between Australia and Canada. They chose Canada.
It was December when we arrived. We landed in the middle of a very cold and snowy night in Montreal. My mom was wearing flip-flops and a sundress, none of us wearing coats. An elderly French lady caught sight of us at the arrival gate. She made eye contact with my mom, and made her way towards her, carrying a small cloth bag. My mom was holding me close against her body with her right arm and my baby brother in the other, while my dad was trying to locate our luggage (which got held back). The elderly lady quickly spoke in a foreign language my mom did not understand (French) and handed her a packet wrapped in foil, patted me on the head and quickly walked away. My mom a little confused, opened the packet to find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crust cut off. A small gesture, that remains a vivid memory for my mom to this day.
When we had all of our belongings located, a young Tamil guy who was finishing a late night work shift at the airport saw my family and approached my dad. After about 20 minutes of chatting with him, we were taken into a small studio apartment in a seedy part of Montreal. This young guy was living in a tiny studio apartment with four of his friends, all of whom fled Sri Lanka to escape the war. That night they offered my parents, my brother, and I a warm bed to sleep in. This was our first night in Canada.
My story is just one of hundreds of thousands of Tamils who fled to Canada for an opportunity at a better life. I have grown to love this country so much, and I could not picture what my life would have been like, if my parents hadn’t make that bold choice. But more importantly, it’s the small acts of kindness from ordinary people (often complete strangers) who make the idea of a better life possible, and remarkable. It’s the humanity in all of us that helps overcome the biggest hurdles and live on to share our journey, to change the world for the better. Everyone has a right to a great life. And everyone has a story.