I had planned on writing about the many proposed legislative changes before our federal and provincial parliaments this month. But over this past weekend it was brought home to me that as a sector we are in a time of flux. We are witnessing many changes in leadership as sector leaders age, retire or reduce hours; as many of our colleagues (primarily women) face grave illness- themselves or of family members. As we mature as a sector serving immigrants and refugees we are witnesses to a changing world of policies, programming, political will - and alas of faces and voices of the champions for progressive social change.
A few years ago as I bemoaned having to attend another family funeral (my mother's very large sibling group was dwindling at great speed) a colleague quietly said to me “at our age we will attend more funerals than weddings”, how prescient those words have turned out to be. In the last five years we have mourned and buried many of our colleagues- some well-known leaders in our sector, others quietly making a difference in their small piece of the world. All shared a passion for social justice, for leaving their agency, their community, and the world just that much better than what they found. For all their work and the impact and influence they've had on the individual and the collective, we are thankful.
Over the weekend, on Refugee Rights Day, we lost Debra Pressé, a colleague from Citizenship and Immigration, Refugee Branch. Debra worked tirelessly to ensure that Canada lived up to its international obligations. She ensured we had policy and programming that benefitted the world's most marginalized and those who work with them. She brought a face of compassion and political understanding to a world that is often filled with pain, disappointment, violence and uncertainty. She will be missed.
To our new and emerging leaders: Grab and use opportunities as they arise to get the stories from those who came before. Let us not allow the Griots (historians/storytellers) of our sector to leave without getting the tales of struggle and victories; of organizing across differences- cultural and political; of building coalitions and of maintaining strong and effective relationships with the policy and decision-makers in and outside of government without compromising our principles. Let us use every opportunity to gain, keep and share institutional and sectoral intelligence and memory.
And when the day is done and one more battle has been won- or lost- let us be gentle with ourselves and each other knowing that another day, another issue, another battle is certain.
In solidarity and sisterhood.