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It was a few simple words, written years ago by a rugby coach, that not only fuelled Emma Jada’s desire to compete at the highest level, but also made her feel like a valued and accepted Canadian.
In her note, Karen Chrobak told Jada that “one day I can see you representing Canada,” Jada says. “And from that moment on, I went ‘Wow, I have potential.’ It lit a fire to one day represent Canada.”
Jada was born in North Sudan after her mother fled South Sudan, fearing for her life when a civil war broke out. When Emma was just three years old, she and her mom left for Egypt to escape the carnage.
“I think my mom heard from some friends that the United Nations was there and they could help us come to Canada as refugees,” Jada says.
Four years later, the two arrived in Windsor, Ont., and moved to Guelph, Ont., shortly after that. It was there, during high school, that Emma discovered her love for rugby. And she quickly realized that a lot of people wanted to help her.
“You don’t think you’re going to come to a country and have this many people wanting to support you,” Jada says. “The coaches have gone above and beyond to help me achieve my goals.”
Last year, Jada moved to Victoria to join Canada’s national women’s rugby sevens program. She’s now spent her first full year training with the squad, and hopes to play for Canada at the 2020 Olympics.
“Words can’t describe how happy I am to be able to say that I’m Canadian and am representing the country that accepts me,” she says.
Jada’s joy, though, has been tempered since last Friday, when United States President Donald Trump issued an executive order suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days, and barring citizens of Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Libya from entering the U.S. for 90 days.
Jada’s grandmother and cousins currently live in Sudan.
“We talk about it. Our family is still there,” she says. “I know that it’s a hard journey and that my mom struggled a lot and I know they’re struggling too.”
The Canadian rugby team has a tournament next month in Las Vegas, and though she holds a Canadian passport, Jada is uneasy about travelling to the U.S.
“I’m from Sudan. I was born there. It says it on my passport,” she says.
“It makes me not want to go through customs.”
A spokesperson for the Canadian Olympic Committee said it shouldn’t be a problem, writing in an email to CBC Sports that “in order to compete for Team Canada, athletes must be Canadian passport holders and Canadian passport holders are not subject to the U.S. travel ban.”
Still, Jada finds the situation unsettling for herself and her fellow immigrants.
“We come here to create a better life for ourselves,” she says. “I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities that have come my way. I want the best for Canada, for our country.