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On Sept. 21, 2016, after enduring the terror of the Syrian civil war, a year living as refugees in Turkey, and almost 27 hours of flying, Samah Motlaq, her husband, Talal, and their two young children touched down in the small lakeside community of Gander, Newfoundland, on the east coast of Canada.

An iceberg floats off the coast of Newfoundland. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.


Motlaq was unsure about leaving Turkey. She liked her life there, and her kids were finally settled after years of uncertainty and upheaval. But their family had friends in Gander who urged them to join them halfway across the world.

"Honestly, all I knew about Canada is that it is very cold in winter but [that] the opportunities for living [were] much better than in Turkey," Motlaq says.

Still, she wasn't sure how welcome her family would be in a small town and foreign culture in a country she'd never visited. Little did she know that welcoming newcomers had long been Gander's brand.

15 years earlier, Gander played host when nearly 7,000 airline passengers were grounded there on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

When American airspace was closed following the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., 38 planes were forced to land in the town, whose airport is home to one of the largest runways in the area — a legacy left over from an era when aircraft had to make frequent refueling stopovers on their way to and from Europe.

With nothing but their hand luggage, travelers from six continents stepped off their planes to find food, clothes, shelter, and community waiting for them.

Stranded passengers from around the world email their relatives from Gander Academy on 9/11. Photo by Scott Cook/The Canadian Press.

Since opening its doors that day, the town has been profiled in countless articles, a Tom Brokaw documentary, and even a new Broadway musical — "Come From Away."

In 2016, Gander opened its doors once again.

For many residents who helped the stranded passengers in 2001 by preparing meals, donating the contents of their closets, and taking them into their homes, welcoming refugees displaced by war in Syria was a no-brainer.

"I really think that this has been the most rewarding experience of volunteering since 9/11," says Diane Davis, a retired elementary school teacher in Gander and a member of the committee coordinating the resettlement.

Davis, who along with several of her fellow teachers inspired a character in "Come From Away," helped launch the committee in early 2016 with the goal of bringing five Syrian families to Gander.

13-year-old Wiaam Maymouna watches the performance of "Come From Away" in Gander on Oct 29. Photo by Diane Davis.

In early June 2016, the committee received notice that the first family would be arriving in just two weeks. Thus began a mad dash to ensure the houses were fully furnished and stocked with food before they arrived.

"We felt as if we are at home from the very first moment," Motlaq says. Hers was the fourth family to arrive in town — with a fifth still on its way.

The members of the committee were used to scrambling. Just about every person on it, Davis explains, had been involved with housing, feeding, and transporting the "plane people" on 9/11.

"One day after the attack, an old lady came to me at my workplace at Walmart and she hugged me and said, 'Do not be afraid. We love you and we are with you guys.'"
— Samah Motlaq

"I’ve been able to explain to [the refugee families], 'You’re not the first people we’ve helped,'" she says. "'This is the way a community works together. These are the kinds of things we take care of.'"

Resettling the families in Gander, Davis explains, is also an opportunity to revitalize the town, which has evolved into a "retirement community" in recent years.

"We’re a province that has an aging demographic," she says. "We’re a province that has a declining population. We’re a community that has employment and housing. We’ve got a good, strong school system here."

As a former educator who lives across the street from her old classroom, Davis has taken the lead in getting the refugee children, who range in age from 2 to 13, adjusted to their new school.

"I retired in June on a Friday and the first family arrived on a Tuesday. So retirement was three days long," Davis says.

New Gander residents Iman Halawany and her husband, Samer Maymouna, watch their son Abed in his kindergarten Christmas program. Photo by Diane Davis. Photos used with permission.

Her role involves everything from translation to registering the kids for classes to liaising with the parents in case of emergency. When one boy was getting in frequent trouble because he couldn't ask for help, Davis wrote her phone number in his notebook and, with the help of Google Translate, explained that whenever he needed anything, he could show it to his teacher.

For Motlaq, who was born in Palmyra, Syria's cultural capital, living in quiet Gander has been an adjustment from big-city life.

While she misses the activity, she is grateful for her new job at Walmart and the safety, quiet, and fellowship of the community — particularly after a deadly shooting that claimed six lives at the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec.

"One day after the attack, an old lady came to me at my workplace at Walmart and she hugged me and said, 'Do not be afraid. We love you and we are with you guys,'" Motlaq says.

The conversation left her with a profound affection for her new adopted home. "I knew that day that Canada represents humanity and equality regardless religion or race."

Five months before "Come From Away" opened on Broadway, the cast and crew flew to Newfoundland for two VIP performances in the Gander hockey rink.

Diane Davis and partner Leo McKenna at the premiere of "Come From Away" in New York City. Photo by Diane Davis.

Before the show arrived, Davis asked Irene Sankoff, the musical's co-writer, for tickets for the eight Syrian adults. The production responded with tickets for all four families, including the children.

Explaining the concept of the performance to the newcomers, many of whom have limited English skills, was a challenge at first.  

"They weren’t sure if they were going to see a hockey game," Davis says. After showing them pieces of the NBC documentary, they began to connect their experience to that of the "plane people" 15 years earlier.

The group also met the cast and creative team of the show — many of whom continue to support the resettlement effort with financial aid and, this past December, a trove of Christmas gifts.

"Santa Claus brought [the kids] sleds this year," Davis says. "That may or may not have come via New York."

For the families just finding their footing, the support has been invaluable. But for those who do speak English, like Motlaq and her husband, it was the performance, with its message of finding community amid chaos, that resonated the loudest.

"It is similar to our story," she says.

"We came from away too."  

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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Girls are bombarded with messages from a very young age telling them that they can’t, that is too big, this is too heavy, those are too much.

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Pop Culture

14 things that will remain fun no matter how old you get

Your inner child will thank you for doing at least one of these.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Swings can turn 80-year-olds into 8-year-olds in less that two seconds.

When we’re kids, fun comes so easily. You have coloring books and team sports and daily recess … so many opportunities to laugh, play and explore. As we get older, these activities get replaced by routine and responsibility (and yes, at times, survival). Adulthood, yuck.

Many of us want to have more fun, but making time for it still doesn’t come as easily as it did when we were kids—whether that’s because of guilt, a long list of other priorities or because we don’t feel it’s an age-appropriate thing to long for.

Luckily, we’ve come to realize that fun isn’t just a luxury of childhood, but really a vital aspect of living well—like reducing stress, balancing hormone levels and even improving relationships.

More and more people of all ages are letting their inner kids out to play, and the feelings are delightfully infectious.

You might be wanting to instill a little more childlike wonder into your own life, and not sure where to start. Never fear, the internet is here. Reddit user SetsunaSaigami asked people, “What always remains fun no matter how old you get?” People’s (surprisingly profound) answers were great reminders that no matter how complex our lives become, simple joy will always be important.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

via Pixabay

The show must go on… and more power to her.

There are few things that feel more awful than being stranded at the altar by your spouse-to-be. That’s why people are cheering on Kayley Stead, 27, from the U.K. for turning a day of extreme disappointment into a party for her friends, family and most importantly, herself.

According to a report in The Metro, on Thursday, September 15, Stead woke up in an Airbnb with her bridemaids, having no idea that her fiance, Kallum Norton, 24, had run off early that morning. The word got to Stead’s bridesmaids at around 7 a.m. the day of the wedding.

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via Lewis Speaks Sr. / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


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