Despite losing three of his daughters in an Israeli attack in Gaza five years ago, Izzeldin Abuelaish brings a message of hope and peace.
There weren't many dry eyes as Abuelaish, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, told his story at Diversity Thunder Bay's eighth annual celebration breakfast for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the Victoria Inn early Thursday morning.
Abuelaish was born and raised in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He obtained his elementary and secondary education in the camp, but eventually went on to medical school at the University of Cairo. He continued his education all the way to Harvard University where he earned his Master's degree in public health.
"My life was a war. I was fighting all the time just to survive, but I succeeded to challenge all of the suffering and to take responsibility and to dream and to have hope in the present and tomorrow," said Abuelaish.
"That's what is needed - not to be trapped in what happened in the past."
On Jan. 16, 2009, tragedy struck.
Israeli shells hit his family's home in Gaza and killed three of his daughters - Bessan, 21, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 13.
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Abuelaish's response to the devastating event was to write a book called I Shall Not Hate and to spread a message of hope for peace - that his daughters would be the last sacrifices in the battle between the Israelis and Palestinians.
He also started the Daughters for Life Foundation to empower young women in the Middle East through education.
"Life is what we make it," he said. "It's in our hand. Not to blame others but to take responsibility and not to be captured in disasters. In every bad thing in life, there is something good."
"We need to invest and maximize the good from the bad. We need to keep moving forward."
About 450 people attended the breakfast in Thunder Bay and Abuelaish was impressed so many people came out at such an early hour.
"At 7:30 a.m., to see this kind of people coming here, this crowd, it's a sign of hope," he said.
Although the world is endemic with violence, hatred, poverty and disease, Abuelaish said making the world a better place is about the little things people can do - something as simple as a smile.
"We need to overcome these diseases by knowing ourselves and then by knowing others," he said.
Also at the breakfast celebration, Thunder Bay Police Service Const. Larry Baxter was given the Respect Award.
Baxter has been a police officer in the city for 13 years; he spent six with the Aboriginal liaison unit working to break barriers between the Aboriginal community and the police service.
"I think that everybody just has to have an open mind. We all have to recognize we all have biases," said Baxter, adding that as a police officer, he always has to make sure he checks his biases when responding to a call.
Baxter said he's seen progress in the city.
"This is a testament to the fact we are making a difference," he said of Thursday's turnout.
"We are making progress slowly. It is a challenging issue."
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