Ottawa’s First Ever Somali Cultural Festival

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Saturday, July 29 marked Ottawa’s first ever Somali Cultural Festival, aiming to build an understanding and appreciation of Somali culture in Ottawa. Drawing a lively crowd to City Hall’s Jean Pigott place, the celebration tied together music, fashion, food (sambusas, anyone?!) with thought-provoking panel discussions.

Organised by the Somali Centre for Family Services, talks of such a festival were sparked after the death of Abdirahman Abdi. One year on, the event is held as a chance for celebration, with Mayor Jim Watson saying it will become an annual event.

One of the main organisers of the festival is Bille Abdalla, the Youth Program Coordinator for the Somali Centre for Family Services.

Photo by Nickie Shobeiry

“I’m from Ottawa, and I’ve been living here since I was five,” Abdalla told Ottawa Life Magazine. “I never had the chance to celebrate my culture in a mainstream type of way. It’s great that this year, we were able to put together a celebration for our community.

We have a bunch of businesses and organisations in our community,” Abdalla continued, “and today, we’re giving everyone the chance to take advantage of this spotlight.”

Abdalla told us about the Mental and Physical Disability, Maternity and Children Hospital of Somalia, who had a stall at the festival. “This family right here have been raising donations in order to send hospital supplies to Somalia,” Abdalla explained. “Maybe 60% of their house is covered in hospital equipment – the basement, the garage, the living room. It’s full of hospital beds, crutches, wheelchairs. They’re doing this out of their own will. All they’re looking for is donations, so they can send the equipment back home to Somali.”

Faduma runs the hospital, telling us that indeed her house is over-flowing with hospital equipment – everything from injections to catheters. When we asked what message she wanted to give to those who attended the festival, it was this: to donate, but to always know exactly where your donation is going.

Other stalls included the family-owned Ottawa Dream Wedding Décor, who run everything from corporate to special events – or the booth of Hamdi Ahmed, who had baked a gorgeous array of cupcakes, which she hopes to eventually turn into a business.

As well as all of this, there was a panel discussion with Abdi Bille, the vice-principal of De La Salle Public School, Algonquin elder Barbara Hill, and Mohamoud Hagi-Aden from the Somali Centre for Family Services.

A beautiful celebration of Somalia’s culture, we can’t wait for next year’s festival.