Canada may be celebrating its 150th birthday, but for me, the country is just 19 years old.
That's when Canada became real—when it switched from an abstract country blanketed in snow and maple leaves in the northern reaches of the map to a place that promised the realization of all my dreams.
I was living and studying in Norway when my teacher and mentor encouraged me to apply to Trent University. It has an international flavour, he said, with students from around the world, and really strong academics. It also happened to have very generous scholarships for overseas students.
So I applied. And eagerly waited.
Word finally came one night in the form of an email from my teacher. I read the subject line, Congratulations, and knew immediately how lucky I was.
Canada for me is synonymous with opportunity. It spreads out in my mind like the pages of a book, the excitement of a full library, the promise of an education.
But at the time of my acceptance, all I knew was that it was far from my family in Palestine, my Canadian classmates were friendly, always apologetic and interested in other people's culture.
Since then I've learned a great deal about what it means to be Canadian—about the treasure-trove of diversity in our cities and the pride in multiculturalism. But education and access to opportunities that you can shape remain the bedrock of my Canadian identity.
I've never felt that more acutely than when my daughter, Zeina, was born, and I held the future of Canada in my hands.
Bringing her into this world was the most exciting moment of my life. Amid the joy and exhilaration was a lingering awareness, dancing at the periphery, of how fortunate she is to be born here, as opposed to in Palestine or Tunisia.
In those first days, and many times since, I've thought back to my own experiences in Kuwait during the Gulf War and Gaza—of living in a conflict zone and having my classes interrupted by air strikes and power outages—and the development work I am lucky enough to be a part of with WE. And every time I do, I'm reminded of the privilege her Canadian citizenship holds—and the responsibility it comes with.
Canada will give my daughter so much: opportunity, freedom, peace, security. She has the responsibility give back and be a positive agent of change.
I hope one day she finds herself in the WE Day audience and participating in a comprehensive service learning program, like WE Schools. I believe so deeply in educating the next generation so they have the empathy and compassion to embrace and celebrate our differences.
The horrific attack at a Quebec mosque and the spate of anti-Semitic incidents across the country reminded us that we are not immune to hate and ignorance in this country. In these moments we need to lean on one another, as our strength lies in our diversity.
After the decision to move to Canada to pursue higher education and the birth of my daughter, there's one more moment that has come to define Canada for me.
Exercising my right to vote.
I was in Tunisia, with Zeina and my husband, visiting family. I'd never voted in an election before but when I went to the Canadian embassy, received my ballot, checked my selection and handed it back, I felt truly Canadian.
Coming from a region in the world where elections are often problematic and women's voices too frequently marginalized, it meant the world to me to exercise my democratic rights and influence the direction of the country (and kudos to the government for making it so easy, even while half a world away).
Education. Inclusion. Diversity. Youth empowerment. These are the themes that I am celebrating this Canada Day.
As Canadians, our strength lies in the uniqueness of each of us. Together, we can do more than we could do alone. Take the WE are Canada pledge, and join a community of Canadians who are working to build a more caring and compassionate country and world.
Dalal is the director of WE Day Global. On July 2—as part of Canada Day long weekend and the government's Canada 150 celebrations—WE Day Canada will take over Parliament Hill for a massive festival-style celebration of everything young people are doing to shape the next 150 years.