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Celebrate Peace Day by creating your own colouring book

Pictures open the doors to understanding whenever there’s a language barrier

By Carolyn Pogue

To celebrate the UN’s International Day of Peace this year, we're throwing a party and launching an all-ages colouring book in Calgary. "Colouring Peace in Calgary" is a welcoming gift for Syrian newcomers. It features city landmarks and natural areas, with captions in Blackfoot, Arabic and English. Blackfoot is the language of the Treaty Seven peoples. In all, 30 Calgary artists donated their drawings.

Conceived by a small art group at Calgary’s Hillhurst United Church, the book will offer people a quiet place to add their own colour to the city. Because the Blackfoot language is introduced, newcomers are helped to understand that they have arrived in Treaty Seven territory — a fact many previous settlers didnʼt recognize.

Artists happily answered the call for submissions, Mayor Nenshi wrote an enthusiastic endorsement, Imam Mohamed Mahmoud, Elders Randy Bottle and Anita Eaglebear generously provided translations; composer Ruth Lomenda, arranger Nancy Chegus and I created a song. With hundreds of bookstores spread across the country, featuring computer-generated colouring books of every description, this one — drawn by the willing hands of professionals and amateurs, children and adults — offers something quite different. It was a joy for me to coordinate.

"Colouring Peace in Calgary," a colouring book, features The Calgary Peace Bridge. Art by Donna Symanczyk

Although we're launching the book to celebrate the International Day of Peace, the party — for me — began in June when the first drawing arrived in the mail; it continued on through the other contributions and the enthusiastic comments made by people when they heard about the concept.

The idea for our book was sparked by artists in Ontario who produced Arabic-English colouring books for Syrian newcomers to Toronto and Windsor, Ont. The project was inspired by unique peace landmarks in Calgary: The Peace Bridge, The Peace Park and The Peace Pole. We hope that along with the many spectacular natural areas featured, these landmarks will offer newcomers tranquility, and we hope that they’ll feel happy to add their own colour and creativity to our city. Working with contributors was fun; each one provided an artist's statement, which were printed in the colouring book, too.

Urszula Ciechanska, who drew a Blackfoot dancer at the Stampede, wrote: “As an elementary school teacher, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of new immigrant children, including Syrian refugees. I have found that images are one of the best tools for communication. Pictures are a universal language and serve to open the doors to understanding when there is a language barrier.” Poppy Gardiner Hadford, who is seven years old, hopes that “colouring her picture might help others feel more at peace like she does when she draws.”

I didn’t meet with Mohamed Mahmoud directly; we relied on a mutual friend to connect us through email for the Arabic translation. But I sat with Anita Eaglebear and Randy Bottle when they looked at the list of English words for translation into Blackfoot. It was enlightening to hear their discussion. What was behind my notion of “peace?” they asked. Did I mean personal or national peace? And after deliberating over the word “park,” they arrived at “a place for you to rest.” I loved how that one simple word was translated as an invitation. Listening to their questions, I saw how my own language is blunt — and sometimes not very pretty!

But the colouring book is very pretty. You might like to create one where you live. Blessings on your own celebration of Peace Day.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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