On September 18, 2011, the Afghan community proudly celebrated its first
ever Heritage Day festival in the province of British Columbia, at the
Scandinavian Cultural Centre. This was the first time the community had an
opportunity to showcase Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of many
Afghans residing in Canada.
Over the decades, Afghanistan’s image has been overshadowed by its
representation as a war-torn country with the need for foreign intervention.
In the hope of expanding the horizons and perceptions of many Afghan-
Canadian youth who are born and raised here and to put to at rest some of
the misconceptions and misrepresentation of Afghanistan and its people,
the Afghan community of the Lower Mainland proactively worked towards
preserving and representing the most cherished and valued culture and
heritage of Afghanistan, by organizing and carrying out the first Afghan
Heritage Day in BC. The objective of this Heritage Day was to enlighten
non-afghan Canadians about the value of harmonies respect between
cultures, and in essence, it was hoped that these cultural endeavors be
regarded as not only serving to protect and cherish the cultural heritage of
Afghanistan, but also as a means of bringing the Afghan and non-Afghan
Canadian community closer to one another.
The opening ceremony started with the Afghan and Canadian National Anthems,
and a performance by a local native group honoring the land we live in and
blessing the Afghan community with its endeavors. Welcome notes and
introduction of the day’s program followed the opening ceremony. Amongst
honorable guest present at the heritage day included Consul General of
United States, Anne Callaghan, minister of innovation, Moira Steelewell
Burnaby Mayor, Derek Corrigan and MLA, Raj Chauhan, Mr. X Chief of Burnaby
police and others were there to honor the Afghan Cultural Heritage Day.
Elite members of our community such as Mayor, Derek Corrigan and MLA,
Raj Chauhan, Mr. X Chief of Burnaby police spoke at the event and
congratulated the Afghan community on their success as new Canadians. Mr.
Chauhan said that he is proud of his association with the Afghan community and
spoke about how it has helped him tremendously in enriching his life and cultural
diversity. He spoke of the time when as a child, he thought Afghanistan was full
of Orchards and remembers Afghanistan being famous for its vast variety of dry
fruits. He is saddened by the turn of events and the years of bloodshed in the
country and the many lives it has claimed. He urged communities to come
together and contribute to one another to bring about social change and justice.
Mr. Harry Bains also said that he is honored to be present at the event and talked
about the cultural diversity of Canada and how the world views Canada as being
one of the best places in the world to live in and raise a family. He asked the
Afghan community to take an active role in contribution to Canada to bring
awareness and to celebrate their culture in the context of rich Canadian
multiculturalism. He added that, it is through coming together as communities
that we can change the nation.
Mr. Corrigan congratulated the Afghan community on taking this initiative to bring
awareness to other communities about Afghanistan and its heritage by holding
the first ever celebration of the country and the beauty that it represents. Mr.
Corrigan talked about multicultural Canada and how important it is to integrate all
cultures and to establish a supportive and nurturing community. He urged local
communities to find ways to improve and support one another. He also said that
he is proud to help with the Afghan Co-op, and talked about the women’s
courage and persistence to contribute and be self-sufficient, to empower other
women, to contribute and give back to the community in the face of difficulties
they have encountered.
The Key Note speaker, Miss. Lauryn Oates gave an outstanding speech about
the present status of Afghanistan; cultural values of Afghan people, about how
she feels being connected with Afghanistan using her 10 years of traveling and
working in Afghanistan. Lauryn Oates is a human rights activist focused on
education in conflict zones. It was in 1996 that, at age 14, Lauryn read a
newspaper article describing the new regime in Afghanistan called the Taliban,
and their treatment of women and girls. She wrote up a petition demanding that
the world respond to the Taliban’s misogynist policies, and has continued this
work ever since, working in close partnership with a variety of Afghan women’s
organizations and international charities. She spoke of how honored she feels to
share this opportunity to talk about her love for Afghanistan and her relationship
to the country. She spoke of the amazing Afghan hospitality, the rich culture and
food, the vast number languages and the many diverse ethnicities present in the
country. She also talked about the much-needed celebration of the country and
to highlight the wonderful qualities it brings and that it is important to have a
balance and not to overlook the beauty of the country and its people. She spoke
of her experiences with women and she has seen them be empowered in the
face of diversity. Lauryn spoke of the courage and persistence of the afghan
people and took pride in being associated with the country.
The morning of the day also included presentations on history of Afghanistan,
and speeches on its language, culture, art, music and heritage. This was
followed by a presentation on Afghan music and the national dance of
Afghanistan called “Attan”. Local talents performed musical pieces, using
traditional afghan instruments such as Rubab and tabla.
The afternoon part of the Heritage Day contained some more
entertainment, which integrated various forms of performances. For the
first time our Afghan youth had a platform to showcase their talent and
creativity to such an audience and their art was encouraged. Individuals
and group dances were performed in beautiful traditional Afghan customs
from various regions of Afghanistan. Children songs and plays were also
performed by a group of Afghan-Canadian children, who proudly sang in
their mother tongue and dressed in colorful traditional Afghan outfits.
The day also included a strong multicultural component. This included
performances by an Iranian guitarist, Spanish flamenco dance, African
Dance and an incredibly amazing performance by a group of recent
Palestinian refugees who arrived to Canada very recently. The Afghan
Canadians enjoyed immensely the multicultural program and thanked the
non-Afghan groups and organization who participated in this event
The visitors, who were of Afghan and non-Afghan communities enjoyed
visiting various booths set to display articles on the history, language, art
and music of Afghanistan, with experts who were delighted to spend time
with those interested. Booth displaying traditions and living environments of
Afghans were enjoyed by many, where the visitors had an opportunity to
drink tea and converse about Afghanistan of today and yesterday.
Traditional Afghan food inside the complex filled the air with its eremitic
aroma. Afghan youth and children participated in many traditional Afghan
games while families and elders enjoyed discussing and proudly sharing
their knowledge of Afghan culture, language, art and history with friends
and family. There was also a soccer tournament and kite flying, children
games and other activities highlighting some aspects of Afghan culture.
Demonstration booths from Canadian women for women of Afghanistan
(CW4WA), Aftow, Bacon of Hopes, woodwork by Barbara Alink, Malalia
Coop Afghan hand cloths craft and others were frequently visited by
The day ended with a round of applause for the organizers of the day,
which included; Partnership Afghanistan-Canada in conjunction with Afghan
and non-Afghan BC organizations.
The Afghan community hopes to carry on the tradition of celebrating the
Afghan Heritage on annual basis and would like to thank everyone who
participated and supported the community with its first successful event.