By: Diseree Anstey – Journal Pioneer
ELMSDALE, P.E.I. —
A family of four left the “Rainbow Nation” behind for rural West Prince P.E.I., and, despite battling the icy grips of winter, they can’t stop raving about their warm Island welcome.
Caroline and her husband, Rustie Maloney, were among the 70 plus booths that lined Westisle Composite High School’s hallway on Saturday for the Neighbour-2-Neighbour gathering.
“We’ve been living on the Island for seven months. Rustie is a family physician in O’Leary, and he also does shift work in the accident and emergency department of the western hospital,” said Caroline, who has been adjusting to the slowed-down pace and freedom of P.E.I.
“There have been so many things that we never anticipated, such as the snow, winter tires, winter clothing and heating. But so many people have helped us along our journey to make the transition smoother,” said Rustie, who comes from Johannesburg, South Africa.
In South Africa, the family was afraid to venture out at night as a result of crime, and hefty fences kept neighbours isolated from one another.
“Just being able to walk with our children and dogs that we brought over from South Africa is something that we will never take for granted. We don’t have to stress about taking the wrong turn or time away from home,” said Rustie.
“It’s been an awesome change — the best thing we could have done. We got to a point in South Africa where we enjoyed the convenience of the city, but we realized there’s more to life. We yearned for this freedom, family time and friendliness that was valuable to us.”
The Maloney’s were among many attending the gathering that celebrated diversity, inclusiveness, and getting to know each other in the community.
Scott Smith, community navigator for West Prince, said this is an opportunity to welcome newcomers and, hopefully, keep them here.
“We wanted to showcase everything West Prince has to offer through the booths, but for our communities to remain vibrant and strong, the best way to make people stay is to make them feel welcome,” said Smith.
The event kicked off with an Olympic-style flag ceremony to showcase all the nationalities in attendance, speeches by dignitaries, Indigenous drumming and a special welcome to the much-needed, new local health-care professionals by Health P.E.I.
Tareq Hadhad, C.E.O. and founder of Peace by Chocolate company, was the keynote speaker.
Hadhad was a Syrian refugee who recently became a Canadian citizen and gained the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“No matter how dark life becomes, there is always hope and light at the end of the tunnel,” said Hadhad to the audience seated in the theatre during his speech.
Hadhad shared his experience of going from a Syrian refugee to leaving everything familiar behind and becoming an immigrant in Canada.
The unexpected warm welcome his family received from Canadians at the airport continued.
It inspired Hadhad to start his own company, a business in chocolate, as a way to give back to his community that warmly embraced them in Antigonish, N.S.
Those in attendance at the gathering on Saturday were gifted a bar of Peace by Chocolate.
“When you give kindness, kindness comes back,” said Hadhad.