Yoursalem Mehonte is one of the many refugees who make a new home in Newfoundland and Labrador each year. She exhibited photographs with the “Home Is Where the Heart Feels” exhibition at St. John’s City Hall (June 20-July 11). We asked her to tell us more about one of her photographs. This is her story.
(Read more about other photographers in the exhibit here.)
Why do you take pictures?
Yoursalem: Photography lets me share my experience as a refugee in Canada, so people can see where I came from and how my life has changed.
At Easter time at my church (St. Maurice Coptic Orthodox Church in Mount Pearl) I took a picture of some of the people there. It was a happy moment. I attend the church regularly. It’s so important that we are able to practice our religion. Here, we are all the same, Christians and Muslims. I can interact with a lot of different people here too. In Sudan, if people saw you wearing a cross, they wouldn’t like you. I would have to hide mine. I have freedom now, here.
I was a refugee in Sudan for 20 years because I didn’t have citizenship. I was born in the camp.
Before I came to Canada, I did some photography, and since moving here I flew out to a session in Winnipeg for photographers.
From Eritrea to Canada: What led to the decision to come here?
Yoursalem: There was no freedom there. I couldn’t do anything. It was a hard life. I was a refugee in Sudan for 20 years because I didn’t have citizenship. I was born in the camp. When I was in Sudan, I didn’t finish my education because I had to help my mom after my dad passed away when I was two. My mom was sick, and she couldn’t go to work and earn money. I stopped my education to help her.
In 2015, I came here with my family: one brother, two sisters, and my mom. At the camp, we were called to do the medicals to come here from Sudan. I was so happy that we came to such a safe province and country. We have been here two years now. I can go out with different groups here. Last year I did volunteer sessions. I’ve been so happy to start my education again. I started the language school to improve my English, and then I started my ABE program, and soon I’ll be continuing my education at Academy Canada. I want to study business.