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Manitoba Hutterites Sponsor Muslim Refugees


A Syrian refugee family that moved to Canada in 2016 and the Hutterite family that sponsored them have become close friends, according to a CBC news story last week.

The farming country around Wawanesa, Manitoba

The farming country around Wawanesa, Manitoba (Photo by Jd. 101 on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Reyad Alhamud, the father in the Syrian family, told the reporter that he was impressed when he first met his Hutterite sponsors by the many similarities between the two families. They both work on farms and they both make most of the things that they need. “The work is the same,” he said. Their sponsors, Paul Waldner and his family, are members of the Green Acres Colony, located near Wawanesa, 20 miles from Brandon in southwestern Manitoba. Mr. Waldner is a teacher at the colony.

He made the decision to sponsor a family of Syrian refugees but first he had to gain support for his plan from the colony. So he spoke with his dad, who happens to be the minister as well as the president of Green Acres. His father’s comments were very supportive: “The Hutterites were refugees at one point as well. If it wasn’t for people helping them, we wouldn’t be here.” He said basically the same thing to a reporter in January 2017. With help from the Mennonite Central Committee, the Syrian family arrived on February 8, 2016, at the Winnipeg airport where the Hutterites met and welcomed them.

Downtown Wawanesa, Manitoba

Downtown Wawanesa, Manitoba (Photo by Jd. 101 on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Initially, Mr. Alhamud and his family lived in Wawanesa in a house that Waldner had gotten ready for them. The two families were close from the beginning, but there were some negative feelings among other members of the colony. “People would say, ‘How could you bring those people here?’” In time, however, the negative comments eased off.

Waldner and Alhamud quickly found similarities between the religious practices of the Hutterites on the one hand and of the Muslims on the other. They both pray several times each day, they both observe and celebrate holidays, and they both have buildings that they dedicate to their worship services—churches and mosques. Other Hutterites keep asking Waldner when he’s going to convert the Syrians to Christianity, and he keeps answering that he hasn’t observed anything about them that is not Christian.

Alhamud and his family subsequently moved from Wawanesa to the much larger community of Brandon where he hopes to find a job. Another church also sponsored one of his brothers to come to Brandon and, more recently, Waldner and the Mennonite Central Committee are working together to bring another brother of Alhamud’s and his family. The colony is preparing to sponsor them as well.


Paliyan Heroism



According to an article in The Hindu last week, some Paliyans acted heroically to help rescue trekkers in the mountains of Tamil Nadu who had been overcome by a forest fire.

View of the Western Ghats from the Kolukkumalai Peak

View of the Western Ghats from the Kolukkumalai Peak (Photo by Jan J George in the Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

When police and medical personnel wanted to launch a rescue operation for the trekkers in Kolukkumalai, located in the Theni district near Kurangani, they turned to the tribal people because of their intimate knowledge of the mountains and forests of the area. The fire claimed the lives of 10 trekkers but, journalist S. Vijay Kumar wrote, more were undoubtedly saved due to the quick actions of the Paliyans.

Survivors fleeing from the conflagration alerted police authorities in Kurangani around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday March 11 and they quickly turned to the local Paliyan people and some members of another tribal society, the Madhuva, who responded immediately. The Paliyans, who knew the area and possible escape routes, led rescue and medical crews into the affected areas. Little could be done to help fire victims with severe burns, but they led people who were able to move along forest trails to safer areas.

Forest fire in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Western Ghats (Photo by Jaseem Hamza in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

K. Venkadapathy, who is a trekking enthusiast from the small city of Bodinayakkanur in the Theni District, told the reporter that the group had become confused by the unfamiliar forest terrain of the Western Ghats mountain range. They had become anxious because of the intensity of the rapidly moving fire. Except for the assistance of the tribal people, who walked into the fire zone where the trekkers were trapped, they would not have been able to make it to safety. Venkadapathy indicated that the fire had been burning in the forest for about a week, but it began to spread very rapidly due to sudden high winds. He didn’t say why the trekkers had entered the forest in the first place under those conditions.

The Paliyan rescuers themselves would be the first to deny any heroism on their own part since traditionally they do like to stand out above others. Peter Gardner, in his article published in 2000 entitled “Respect and Nonviolence among Recently Sedentary Paliyan Foragers,” which is available as a PDF in this website, indicates that anything interfering with the autonomy of others is considered to be disrespectful. Gardner writes (p.220) that “Paliyans avoid all … comparative or evaluative discussion of abilities of people, even though some really are so much more skilled or knowledgeable than others [and the] Paliyans must be aware of this.”

They not only deny that as individuals they have more abilities than others, they reject the possibility of there being differences in strength or ability among people. They “are self-conscious about doing or receiving anything which sets them off from others,” according to Gardner.  The perception of equality is an absolute requirement for their sense of mutual respect and their beliefs in their own peacefulness.



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