UBC professor Dr. Hugo De Burgos sits a table with a handful of middle school students Thursday morning.
They are listening as he tells his story of moving to Canada at a young age and becoming a professor, despite predictions he likely wouldn’t finish high school.
De Burgos said when he moved from war torn El Salvador he found it hard to concentrate on learning English. Physiatrists conducted tests, including an intelligence test.
“I remember asking them, ‘So, do you think I will be able to go to university?’ and then they say, ‘We doubt you will be able to finish high school,’” recalled De Burgos.
“I didn’t direct my life based on what they thought, but on the contrary, I thought I’m going to prove them wrong and I’m going to follow my own opinion.”
His message for students is to be self-confident.
“You cannot allow your life to be run by the opinion of others. The opinion of others is important but not as important as your own opinion,” said De Burgos.
De Burgos is just one of the “books” from a variety of diverse backgrounds in a living library.
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“The concept of a living library is that all the presenters, there are 18 of them, come and they are books. The students get to go visit the books and listen to their story, their personal story about where they have come from, the countries they were born in (and) maybe some of the diverse, different things that they’ve gone through in their lives,” explained organizer Leigh-Ann Yanow.
The living library was organized as part of a conference for central Okanagan middle school students as the school district prepares to celebrate diversity on Harmony Day for the tenth year.
“We wanted the students that came today to get some ideas and be inspired to share with the students back at their own schools for Harmony Day,” said Yanow.
De Burgos said these types of events are urgently needed.
“I never experienced so much discrimination in Canada until I moved to the Okanagan,” said De Burgos.
De Burgos moved to the area ten years ago and said things are changing.
“This event is so central and important because we are teaching our new generations about the value of diversity, culturally and ethnically,” said De Burgos.
The Central Okanagan School District will celebrate Harmony Day February 15.