WORDS: KALSANG DOLMA
Taking place during the 2017 edition of Culture Days, Senior Arts and Culture for Recreational Education Development (SACRED) Interactive was a unique event, celebrating seniors’ leadership through their personal heritage. Taking place in the Parkdale community of Toronto, SACRED was a year-long project of DreBu, directed by Kalsang Dolma and facilitated by senior leaders from the Tibetan community. Funding for the project came from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program. The project engaged with seniors (aged 55 plus) and the local community through arts and culture for social development. SACRED employs a peer mentoring model where seniors support each other by using artistic, cultural and traditional skills based on their heritage to address the barriers many immigrant seniors in Parkdale live with, specifically, social isolation and language.
The senior members, youth volunteers and project facilitators planned the Culture Days SACRED Interactive event for weeks in order to share their heritage. Traditional songs, dances, food and crafts adorned the event, while the seniors passed down their memories to the neighbourhood, community, and the society at large through storytelling.
The pavements were marked by colorful prayer flags representing the five natural elements, (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Metal), while the opening celebration featured a welcoming dance by the “GyalShey” (RoyalSongs) – a senior-led group. Their songs echoed the ancient Tibetan traditions, with the beautiful hypnotic singing and drumming music beckoning the participants to the centuries-old tradition of a circle dance, termed “GorShey” in Tibetan.
Seniors demonstrated making both Tibetan staple and festive foods, roasted barley flour dough, “Pak” and “Momo” dumplings. Some of the seniors brought their woven handicrafts, such as belts and sling shots and explained the process of making them. A few seniors also shared stories of how they grew up in villages herding animals in Tibet, how they survived as refugees in India or Nepal, and how they finally landed as newcomers in Canada. The Gyalshey dance group performed wonderful songs throughout the day, where everyone danced in a circle and learned a few new steps.
Two seniors – Tsering Dikyi and Sonam Lhogyaltsang – shared beautiful, traditional wise sayings (“Tam Pe”) and folk songs, that can be humorous, sad, or serious, but always packed with life lessons – a tradition that is passed down verbally within families, villages and communities at large. A sample of these Tam Pes shared by a senior, include:
- “Me Dre Gyag Na, Bungpo Aachog La Prengba Tag” (Translation: “When a person gets spoiled, they will let a donkey carry their rosary”)
- “Miyi Rimo Nang Na, TagGi Rimo Phyi la” (Translation: “A Person’s art is hidden within; a tiger’s art is worn outside”)
Another auspicious highlight of the event was a crew of Ryerson Multi-Media Studies students that were invited to attend. These students were making a culture and food-focused documentary called, “Foot Prints”. Tibetan culture was among the New-Canadian community cultures they were focusing on in the documentary, so the event created a great opportunity to have these young students participate in, learn from and document the festive occasion attended by over 75 people.
At the evaluation following the Culture Days event, everyone, especially the seniors, shared that they felt a huge sense of value and belonging when they could share their “modest knowledge” and their lived experiences as part of their heritage with their peers, the youth and the members of their local community.
Even though this is the fourth event that DreBu has organized for Culture Days, new lessons are learned each year. For example, the 2017 program highlighted the importance of focusing on activities that supported public engagement, regardless of the participants’ skill level or age. During regular social activities, SACRED project members normally developed art projects in a casual and flexible environment, collaborating with one another. In a festival format, it was necessary for the lessons to be more organized and structured to support learning in a more limited lesson time, particularly with participants who may be new to this particular style of art-making.
Although it was a year-long project, SACRED will have a lasting legacy and community impact. Recordings of the traditional folk songs and music from the Tibetan Seniors will be made available to the public in 2018 for further listening and learning. Phase 2 of the SACRED project will work towards producing an innovative podcast series featuring cross-cultural arts and inter-generational dialogues that contribute to a dynamic Canadian Culture. Stay tuned and check out @DreBumedia on Twitter and Instagram.
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