How a Somali refugee became a Halifax firefighter

How a Somali refugee became a Halifax firefighter

A new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg includes a powerful link to the world's refugee crisis.

Our Canada, My Story, which opened Wednesday night, profiles seven Canadians who have struggled to succeed. 

One of those stories is about Ali Duale, a refugee who came to Halifax from Somalia two decades ago.   

"It was a not a place somebody who wanted to have a future in life could stay," Duale said of his home country. "I'm not sure if I would be alive."

'It will stay with me the rest of my life'

Duale and his wife fled to Kenya, where they lived in a refugee camp for seven years.

They had three children, and lived in dire conditions before they learned they were accepted as refugees in Nova Scotia.

It was March 11, 1997.

"It will stay with me the rest of my life," he said. "I was in one of the best hotels in Halifax without having a penny in my pocket."

He opened the drawers and found diapers, toothbrushes, toothpaste and a cheque for $100.

A vow to give back

"I wonder who was that person who never met me, who never had any connection to me, who prepared for me all of these things. Some of them I've never used in my life," he said of the donations. "What I took, for me, is a message. That message is this is what it's all about — Canada."

From that moment, Duale vowed to give back to his new city.

He learned English and became a firefighter.

He was recently promoted and is now the diversity officer for Halifax Fire and Emergency Services.

'This is my piece'

Duale was also instrumental in raising millions of dollars to help build the Ummah Mosque and Community Centre.

His family grew and he now has eight children. Duale also manages to find the time to coach basketball on the weekend.

"Each one of us is making a contribution. This is my piece."

Duale's compelling story struck a chord with Julia Peristerakis, the curator of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

She's one of the people who selected him to be a part of the exhibit they were creating in honour of Canada's 150th anniversary.

'Open your heart'

"I think that really resonated for what's at stake when it comes to welcoming refugees to our country how important it is to do so," she said.

The current situation for refugees is something that weighs on Duale's mind.

He sees images of people from his home country desperately crossing into Canada on foot.    

He wants to give them hope, and he wants Canadians to embrace them.

"[These] are another fellow human being who have been abused, who have been displaced, who have been tortured. Open your heart and your mind. They will be your neighbours. They will be your coworkers. They will be your fellow citizens."