Beryl (Dia) Ingram of the group Kinfolk sings during the opening of the annual Harmony Day Living Library event in Kelowna Tuesday.—Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Central Okanagan students encouraged to be resilient

Annual Living Library event encourages students by hearing the stories of others

Hundreds of middle school students from across the Central Okanagan were urged to embrace their futures Tuesday at the annual “living library” event, a precursor to this year’s district-wide Harmony Day on Feb. 21.

Keynote speaker Rawle James told the more than 150 students gathered at the Hollywood Road Education Centre they are the leaders of today, and as such they need to speak up.

“Your not speaking hinders your ability to be magical,” said James, a poet and immigration partnerships co-ordinator with Kelowna Community Resources.

“Use your imagination to see what’s possible and then go and do it.”

The Living Library event featured speakers from across the community who talk to groups of students, relaying their own stories and life lessons. The presenters acted as human “books” for the students.

The aim of the event is to provide ideas for the students to take back to their schools as they plan their own Harmony Day events. Harmony Day across the school district will take place Feb. 21.

According to organizer Leigh-Ann Yanow, the popular Living Library event, brings a wide variety of speakers together to talk to students. This year the event featured issues such as mental health, rising from physical diversity, travel, entrepreneurship, LGBTQ issues, the struggles of refugees and politics to name just a few.

Twenty speakers were lined up to present their stories Tuesday, with small groups of students spending 30 minutes at a time listening and asking questions of each human “book”.

The theme of this year’s event—and of the upcoming Harmony Day itself—was resilience, with the word and its definition printed on t-shirts for the students in English, French and the Okanagan language.

Presenter Emily Simone Lukaszek, who spoke about her battle with mental illness, said it’s important to talk about the issue to help reduce the social stigma often associated with it.

She said she wants to be a conduit for the students to learn, first-hand, about mental illness in order to get the conversation going among young people.

“Everybody has a story to tell,” she said.

David Miller was there to tell his story, too. One that epitomizes resilience.

In 1986 he was burned badly in an industrial accident on an oil rig in Alberta. Despite suffering second and third-degree burns to 87 per cent of his body, he didn’t give up, going on to have a successful career as both a teacher and businessman.

Cristina Perez-de-las Cuevas Drake, an exchange student from Spain was there to talk to the students about her experience with travel and the benefits it can afford individuals, especially young people.

One of the youngest presenters at just 17, she is currently in Grade 12 at Rutland Senior Secondary and has traveled extensively. Her current educational exchange program in Kelowna is her fourth.

The idea for Harmony Day in Central Okanagan schools came from a similar day celebrated in Australia. Now itn its 11th year, it aims to not only bring people together but also encourage creativity and give the participants a sense there is a larger world out there, one waiting to be explored and embraced.

“We chose the theme of resilience this year because everyone has to be resilient sometime in their lives,” said Yanow.

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