Local peace festival draws its own crowd

All Kathryn Sleason wanted Saturday morning was a coffee. Instead, she was receiving a heartfelt explanation of Tibetan Buddhism.

“It’s holding me here,” the petite senior said of Brantford’s first Local/Global Peace Festival

The festival, organized by Julie Francoeur, owner of local organic café Stir it Up!, took place on Saturday and Sunday just a few steps away from the Second Annual International Jazz Festival. Designed to promote peace and unity as well as celebrate the United Nation’s International Day of Peace on September 21, the event featured a variety of local and global organizations.

The International Day of Peace, first established in 1981 and celebrated in 1982, encourages personal and political peace iniatives, including having countries cease fire on that day. Perhaps few attending the festival understood the importance of peace more than Sleason’s teacher, Tenzin Dhargay.

Surrounded by colourful, vivid artwork and dressed casually in a golf shirt and khakis, Dhargay seemed far removed from the political unrest he once had to escape. Dhargay fled his native Tibet in 1987 for political reasons at the age of 23. He fled at night, over mountains, without a passport.

Once in India, he studied art for five years before moving to Nepal where he lived for a decade. In 2007, he came to Canada with his wife and three children.

Dhargay, a Tibetan Buddhist, makes Thangak paintings – a form of Buddhist art. He says his artwork gives him happiness, and he would paint full-time if he could. But where he currently lives, in Toronto, few people understand the art and as a result are uninterested in purchasing it. He currently cleans buildings for a living.

Dhargay’s father taught him the craft of painting; his family has been painting now for nine generations. He hopes his children will continue the tradition, but is unsure if they will want to. The world they live in differs vastly from that which their father was born into.

His story was one of many featured in the festival, which also included displays from Ten Thousand Villages, an organization that sells fair-trade products from around the world, as well as Brant Native Housing, the Brantford Arts Block, Woodview Children’s Mental Health and Autism Services, Brant-Brantford Roundtable on Poverty, Hazelwood Community Garden, YMCA Immigrant Settlement Services and the Peace and Diversity Circle. Laurier Brantford was represented by Project Empathy and chapters of Amnesty International and the Rotoract Club. Some students also volunteered for the event.

Organizer Francoeur first imagined the event would simply be a fair-trade festival. While Christmas shopping online at Ten Thousand Villages, the company impressed her and she invited a representative to attend an art opening she hosted in January. From there, the festival “took on a life of its own.”

The event allowed different organizations to raise awareness and recruit volunteers. Marc Laferriere, who represented the Brant-Brantford Roundtable on Poverty, said Woodview Children’s Mental Health and Autism Services handed out more flyers with their crisis number on Saturday alone than they had at any previous time. Similarly, Peter Isaacs of Brant Native Housing saw the festival as a way for different organizations – local and global – to share ideas and work together “in a way that has probably never been done before in the past.”

And it appears the festival will have a future. Francoeur said plans are already being made for next year’s festival, which will hopefully showcase more organizations and also offer increased opportunity for Laurier Brantford students to become involved.

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