• PAAL

So much choice, yet no crossroads


There are great benefits from living in a city like Montreal. Cosmopolitan cities have something quite appealing about them: they offer a significantly broader range of choices. Indeed, diversity attracts all kinds of people with a variety of options within its industries and markets. When it comes to food, festivals or entertainment, there is no better place to make new encounters and discoveries, or find products from a specific culture among the pool of ethnicities that are behind most cool businesses. Indeed, we owe most of Quebec’s entrepreneurial dynamism to immigrants from all over the world. What makes Montreal so special is the ease with which anyone can satisfy their taste. And if they don’t know where to look, there will always be someone around to advise them on where to find the best smoke meat, shish kebab, bubble tea or vegan ice cream downtown. Yet after assessing the benefits of such diversity, one problem remained obvious to us: with all the choice, neighborhoods and restaurants available, we realized it seemed very hard to experience diversity as a whole instead of a cluster of divisions. It became clear to us that with so much potential for innovation and positive interaction between Montreal communities, there was something still limiting its strength and power: fear… fear of assimilation from one side of the fence, and fear of invasion from the other, as if one couldn’t fit in without completely blending in and losing their individuality.

How we chose to make a difference We started thinking about ways to conciliate both social integration and cultural roots, and founded our organization: PAAL Partageons le monde. We came up with the idea of developing workshops and activities for children, working closely with governments, schools, communities as well as other organizations, to show that what makes us who we are is not only our cultural background or heritage, but also the new common values we share with the rest of society. We believe that children are the leaders of tomorrow and that change for a better future starts with them, which is why we think education should focus on providing them with the right tools to face upcoming challenges and culture clashes.


Better equipped parents, schools and children We know the challenges parents and teachers face every day with children. Aside from the traditional job of teaching and educating them, we know how hard it can be to explain war, terrorism, racism and international conflict to a child, especially when dealing with the news and the climate of insecurity some of us are experiencing.


Whether it is at home, school, work or in the streets, intolerance and ignorance as related to intercultural mixing cannot be completely avoided, but the issues surrounding them can be treated with understanding and approaches that focus on transforming negativity into something beautiful and real. Valuing differences instead of cultivating prejudice not only makes the world a better place, but it definitely helps our children get by more easily in life. A healthier, richer and fuller education against prejudice It is known that prejudice is strongest with children from the age of 7 years old. The scientific health magazine “Naître et grandir,” in a January edition of 2016, reported that “around the age of 7, [a child] understands that certain differences exist at birth and that they are unchangeable (ex.: skin colour). He is also aware that social classes exist within his surroundings.” It is therefore essential to help children develop their people skills, intercultural knowledge and understanding of others by exposing them to diversity in a smooth, pleasant and educational way, so that they can better function in the many areas of their lives which will all involve intercultural interaction. Enabling children’s empathy and emotional development will shape their identity and make for an education that is healthier, richer and fuller. That is why we aim to do that through arts and intercultural mediation. We believe that each and every one of us, starting with our children, can bring their own personal addition to the pool of richness that is Quebec and make its global culture even more flourishing. Change comes by joining forces But we can’t do that alone. The effort needs to come from every institution that plays a role in the evolution of attitudes, social structure and community life. We need to create bonds and bridges between choices, cultures and communities, so that such things as ghettos, social isolation and fear of the unknown can be replaced with cultural bridging and blending, common grounds and positive exchange. Developing one’s cultural intelligence has become mandatory to live and function in our society. We want to live up to see our children grow healthy and successful, in a safe environment where they can bond with each other, make positive alliances and build a society that will provide them with endless possibilities. To allow it, we must come up with new tools designed to promote better understanding and intercultural challenges. The face of the world is changing. Countries have decided to open their boarders to diversity and nations have started spreading across the world, while also learning to embrace new cultures and identities through collective enrichment.


As Canadians, immigrants and Montrealers ourselves, we chose to make a difference by helping cultures and communities come together to create and embrace a variety of cultural identities, all creating the big picture, the rich and colourful family that is Quebec society. The best way to do that is to start with the youngest generations. We need to provide parents, schools and children with better resources that will help them handle globalization issues and make them better equipped to deal with these challenges on a daily basis. Let’s work towards that goal and meet at the crossroads of peace, love, friendship and freedom!

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© 2015 Rafael Benitez. All rights reserved