Assuaging fear and stereotypes through children’s literature: an interview with Canadian author Alhan Rahimi

Over 40,000 Syrian refugees have settled into Canada since 2015. But there hasn’t been a single book written for children explaining the Syrian refugee crisis. So Alhan Rahimi decided to write one.

Yara, My Friend from Syria was published in December 2016. The children’s  book follows  Yara, a young Syrian refugee who moves to Canada with her family.

“It’s a topic that’s touching children. The newcomers that are coming, there are many children among them and they went through difficult times. Just the fact that they have to leave what they like behind, is a very difficult thing for a child. So I wanted our children [in Canada] to know that not every child has the opportunities that they have here,” says Rahimi about her book over the phone to Phillip Bishop and Katie Donegan.

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Book cover of “Yara, my friend from Syria. Courtesy of author and illustrator Anahit Aleksanyan.

The children’s book focuses on universal themes of love and compassion. Rahimi says that she didn’t want the book to include any violence because she didn’t want to shock children and parents, but rather teach them about open mindedness.

“I’m trying to show [children] that they can go and help newcomers. That’s why Oliver goes and gives his snack to Yara…There are things that are out of our hands, but that’s something they can do.”

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Angela and Oliver approach Yara at school. Courtesy of Alhan Rahimi and illustrator Anahit Aleksanyan

Rahimi says that the book has already provided a lot of insight for children who have read her book.

“Some of the children that read the  book told me, ‘Oh, we didn’t know that there were nice houses in Syria,’ when the illustration came out that Yara was sitting in the front yard with her family and they were having fun under the apple tree. That’s another point that I want our children to know about. Life was very nice in any country that is a war country now. Before that, they had a nice life and they were educated. I don’t want them to think of those kids as uneducated children or poor children…some of the stereotypes that might  be present in our children’s minds, I wanted to clear that up.”

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Canadian children Angela and Oliver. Courtesy of author and illustrator.

Reporting by Phillip Bishop, Katie Donegan and Rachel Swansburg

Engineering and production by Lucy Martirosyan and Katie Donegan

Stonewall Center Ally Training: interview with Meghan Tunno

Stonewall Center ally training coordinator Meghan Tunno stopped by the studio to talk about the program with WMUA. They are in charge of organizing and updating the training offered by the Stonewall Center regarding how to be an ally. Despina Durand sat down with them to talk about how to be an ally to the queer community.

Originally broadcast on Oct. 9, 2014.

Music is “China Shop” by the Sugar Honey Ice Tea.