Holland College Blog

News and views from around the college

Meet language student Khadar Tawane Hilowle

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Khadar and and his family.

Khadar and and his family.

Many newcomers to Prince Edward Island choose to come here because of the immigration programs that are available to them, or because of the unique opportunities that they will have here. Others have had no choice in the matter.  Last year, approximately 6%, or 92 of the 1,557 newcomers to Prince Edward Island were refugees.*

Khadar Tawane Hilowle came to Prince Edward Island as a refugee in 2013.

He spent more than 20 years in Hagadera, part of the largest refugee camp in the world, in Dadaab, Kenya. According to United Nations statistics, there were 332,749 Somali refugees living in 77,760 households in Dadaab as of the end of May, 2015.

Khadar lost his entire family when he was a small child at the beginning of the Somali Civil War in 1991. Another Somali family found him wandering alone and took him in. They estimated that he was 9 years old, but he’s not sure.

The loss of his parents and all of his family is not something he can talk about easily, preferring to live in the present rather than the past.

“My life is now,” he explains.

When the family fled Somalia, they took Khadar with them, and were placed in Hagadera. In the 20 years that Khadar lived in the camp, he managed to earn a teacher’s certificate, and became an elementary school teacher in the camp’s school. Eventually, he took on the administrative role of Head Teacher. His wife, Fatumo, is the oldest daughter of his adopted family. Fatumo was as a health care worker in the camp.

Mc Sweeney, Department of Government, UCC

Mc Sweeney, Department of Government, UCC

Khadar said over the two decades in the camp, he developed a sense of “bufis”, a Somali word the expresses the longing to resettle in a developed country.

“Your hope is that it will become safe to return to your home, but after 20 years, you know it won’t happen, and resettlement is only for the luckiest people…we thought it was like going from Hell to Heaven.”

“That dream was in my mind every day when I woke up in a house made of twisted trees with plastic on top. Most people wanted to be resettled, but it is not their own decision.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) selects likely candidates for resettlement.

“At 8:30 every morning, there was an update from UNHCR on the notice board with the name, time, date, location for resettlement interviews. One day I was at my desk as school principal when I received a phone call from my friend, my name was on the UNHCR notice board for resettlement. I called my wife and gave her the good news.”

“It was a really happy moment, but there were a lot of steps still to happen.”

Image downloaded from The Guardian.

Image downloaded from The Guardian.

The couple had four young children by the time they learned that they were being considered for a resettlement program.

“It’s a long process. We were selected on certain criteria, and you can be rejected. After all the screening and profiling you wait to hear if you have been accepted and where you will be sent.”

Some people wait for up to five years to find out where they will be going, or if they will be going anywhere at all.

“Eventually, I got an envelope from an embassy. You never know what is inside. It is called ‘Feedback’.  Some people open the envelope and it says, ‘Rejected’.”

He remembers the deep depression that those who were rejected for resettlement would fall into.

Finally, after three years, Khadar and his family learned they would be resettled in Canada.

Khadar and Fatumo found themselves on a journey that would take them more than 10,000 km away from the refugee camp in which they had spent most of their lives, heading for a country about which they knew very little, and to a province about which they knew even less.

The journey from Kenya to Charlottetown was grueling. With four small children in their arms, the couple embarked on a journey that took them from Nairobi to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Toronto, and finally, Toronto to Charlottetown. At each leg of the journey, UNHCR workers met their flight to ensure that they safely made the connecting flight.

By the time the family arrived in Prince Edward Island, they were exhausted. They were met at the airport by a group from the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, who facilitated their resettlement.

Khadar is enrolled in language training at Holland College. Now the couple have five children, Farhiyo Khadar, 7; Fosiyo khaddar, 5; Abdilatif Khadar, 4; Hadis Khadar, 3; and Yasin Khadar, who will be one year old in November. Fatumo was in language training, too, until the arrival of little Yasin.

“This baby is an Islander,” Khadar says, smiling.

“Now the children speak English and my wife doesn’t know what they’re saying,” he laughs, noting that she intends to go back to language training as soon as the baby is old enough.

“She made lots of friends when she was in the program, and she keeps in touch with them,” he adds.

Khadar’s strongest desire is to be able to work in order to provide financial stability for his family. His teaching credentials are not recognized in Canada, so he must retrain if he hopes to find full-time employment. The couple would also like to become financially stable so that they could eventually sponsor their parents, who are still in Hagadera, to come to Canada.

He hopes to take a trades program at Holland College; but he is concerned about providing for his young family and repaying his resettlement loan, so right now, his education is on hold.

Khadar is deeply concerned about the misconceptions refugees have when they are resettled after years of yearning for a better life. He says that, although life on the Island is much better than life in the refugee camp, the challenges are still daunting.

“Don’t have unrealistic expectations,” he warns. “Life is life where ever you are. It is a struggle.”

For Khadar, the realization of his dreams will have to wait a little longer.


Dadaab….a forgotten city in the 21st century. Damien Mc Sweeney, Department of Government, UCC.  http://publish.ucc.ie/boolean/2011/00/McSweeney/33/en. Downloaded June 22, 2015

The Guardian. Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, 20 years on – in pictures. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2011/mar/24/dadaab-refugee-camps-in-pictures. Downloaded June 22, 2015

UNHCR: http://data.unhcr.org/horn-of-africa/region.php?id=3&country=110

PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada Annual Report 2013/2014

Written by Sara Underwood

June 29, 2015 at 9:52 am

Meet Holland College language student Fei Wang

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Fei and her son William

Fei and her son William

For many newcomers, the most remarkable (shocking, in some cases) experience when they move to Prince Edward Island is the weather in winter. For Fei Wang, that wasn’t really an issue.

“I come from Northern China, close to Beijing, so the weather is very similar. But I wasn’t expecting so much snow,” she laughs.

I think all of us were shocked and awed by the 17+ feet of snow we received this year, so her horror is perfectly understandable.

For Fei, 36, the biggest surprise was how friendly the people here are.

“The people are so nice and helpful,” she says.

Fei’s journey to Canada was a journey of transformation. If she had stayed in China, she explains, nothing would have changed. She worked in the Human Resources department of a marketing firm, and would have been expected to continue to work in that capacity for the rest of her life. Instead, she says, she saw the opportunity to change the path of her life by emigrating.

So Fei, her husband Zhi Tao Wu, and their 9-year-old son came to Prince Edward Island about a year and a half ago.

“I followed my heart,” she says.

It was a bold move, but not one that she regrets. Now she is working as a translator for PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada and as a customer service representative for Air Canada. For both of these tasks, the ability to communicate is vital.

Fei says that her training in Holland College’s language training program has helped her develop in her English skills, including a stint at Andrew’s Lodge for on the job training.

“It has made a big difference. If your English is better, you can communicate what you are thinking more clearly. Holland College has been very important to me.”

Aside from the friendliness of Islanders, Fei say the biggest surprises when they arrived here were the lack of pollution and the slower pace.

She said that with the technology available now, she can keep in touch with her friends and family in China through Skype and by email. What she misses the most, she says, is the food.

She offers two pieces of advice to other newcomers:

“Take it easy and don’t rush, and learn English,” she says. “Life here is beautiful.”


Written by Sara Underwood

June 22, 2015 at 10:01 am

Meet Holland College language student Keyvan Ashenaei

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(L-R) Keyvan's son Mobin Ashenaei, his wife Farahnaz Rezaei, Keyvan, and his younger son Salman Ashenaei.

(L-R) Keyvan’s son Mobin Ashenaei, his wife Farahnaz Rezaei, Keyvan, and his younger son Salman Ashenaei.

Canada’s excellent record on human rights was what attracted Keyvan Ashenaei to this country.

Born in Kuwait to Iranian Bahá’í parents, Keyvan spent most of his life marginalized. He was not permitted to hold a Kuwaiti passport, instead holding one from Iran, where the Bahá’í faced increasing hostility.

After the Iranian revolution in 1979, Bahá’í were stripped of their rights to own property or businesses in Iran, many lost their government jobs, others were imprisoned and executed. As an Iranian citizen in Kuwait, Keyvan attended an Iranian school. Shortly after the revolution, when he was in Grade 11, the principal told Keyvan and the other Bahá’ístudents they were no longer welcome.

Keyvan found himself without an identity. Shunned by Iran, even though Kuwait refused to give him citizenship in the country of his birth, he resolved to work hard and establish a comfortable life there. Eventually, he and his brother ran a photography shop and art studio which boasted many well-known Kuwaitis as clients.

Even though they were not permitted to own property or businesses in their own names, Keyvan still felt that Kuwait was his home.

At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, Kuwait offered citizenship to those who had remained in the country and been loyal to the government, and for people who had been in the country before 1965. Keyvan and his wife applied, but within only a few months the Kuwaiti parliament voted to limit the offer to Arabs and Muslims.

Keyvan’s concern over the lack of human rights afforded to him and others of his religion deepened, and he and his wife, Farahnaz Rezaei, began to worry about what the future held for their two sons, Mobin and Salman. He heard from friends about the Canadian government’s immigration programs. After four years, the family finally received approval, and prepared to come to Canada.

Leaving the country was heart-wrenching. Selling the business, saying goodbye to their staff and their families, the couple prepared to move to London, Ontario. But just three weeks before they were due to fly, Keyvan’s brother Alhan called from Prince Edward Island. He had purchased P.E.I. Photo Lab, and wanted Keyvan to join him to run it.

Keyvan and Farahnaz discussed it, and decided to change their plans and come to the Island. The family arrived on Canada Day, 2012.

“I can’t express my joy when the officer at the Toronto airport, after checking all the documents, stamped our passports and told us, ‘welcome home’, which removed all the stresses we had before we came,” Keyvan recalls in a video he prepared for the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Keyvan, Farahnaz and their sons have been in Prince Edward Island for three years now. The adjustment that first year was tough.

“It was a big stress for us,” he said in a recent interview. “It was our first time in Canada, so it was a big challenge, especially for our sons.”

The two boys were 15 and 17 when they arrived in Canada, not the best time for teenagers to leave behind their friends and start a new life so far away; but Keyvan and his wife felt that the human rights living in Canada afforded them, and the educational opportunities that would be available for their sons, made the sacrifice worthwhile.

Now, their oldest son, Mobin, is attending U.P.E.I., and intends to continue his education at Dalhousie University studying engineering. Salman has just completed high school and is looking forward to attending Holland College’s Culinary Institute of Canada in the fall. Farahnaz is working as a Program Officer with the Office of Immigration, Settlement and Population in PEI.

The family now feels that Prince Edward Island is their home.

“The people are kind and helpful, we are part of the Bahá’í community here, our faith community is truly our second home from home and we have many friends,” Keyvan said.

His advice to others moving here?

“Attend language school. As well as learning the English language, you will learn about the culture and the community.”

Keyvan believes that becoming part of the community is crucial. In addition to his Bahá’í community, he and his wife have made many friends through their activities.

He encourages newcomers to contact the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada as soon as they arrive; and, if they are establishing or buying a business, to join the Chamber of Commerce and register with PEI Connectors Program, which offers a great deal of business information for those who are seeking to start business on the Island.

“Learn the culture, show respect, and, if you are honest and you know what you are doing, you will succeed.”

Now, finally, the family feels that they have found a home where they will be able to enjoy the same rights and privileges as others in the community and can build a future with their sons.

Written by Sara Underwood

June 10, 2015 at 10:02 am

ITAP’s IT Garage gives fledging programmers and artists a taste of the real world of app development

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Graduates of programs related to video game and application development get real-world experience in the Innovation and Technology Association of Prince Edward Island (ITAP) IT Garage, a video game and software development incubator for graduates of IT programs. For three months, two teams of three graduates from Holland College programs such as Video Game Art and Animation or Computer Information Systems, UPEI’s Computer Sciences program, or from similar programs elsewhere in the region, work together to develop either a video game or a business application.

Timothy Young, who oversaw this year’s IT Garage for ITAP, said the participants gain invaluable experience not just from developing the apps, but from the team work and planning the projects require, as well.

BA1“For many of them, this is their first experience working on a team. It helps them learn the importance of collaboration, and how to be good communicators.”

Recently, the two teams involved in the IT Garage (which ran for several years as Game Garage), unveiled their projects to industry leaders and students. One team developed a business app, Collectopaedia, which allows users to sort and manage their video game collections. Developers Harvey Xia, a UPEI graduate, and Ryan Adams, a graduate of Holland College’s Computer Information Systems program, worked with Video Game Art and Animation graduate Jacob Judson on the app.

The second team developed a video game, Trees N Trees, where players take care of a pet monster earning upgrades by exploring and battling in a forest dungeon. Developers Fernando Marques, a Sheridan College graduate, and Jesse Martin, a graduate of Holland College’s Computer Information Systems program, worked on the game with Video Game Art and Animation graduates Brett Farrell and Shelyse Richard.

VG1Last year’s IT Garage led to the development of Spirit of Adventure, a video game launched by two IT Garage participants, Courtney Gaudet and Scott Humes. Gaudet and Humes formed Rabbit Hole Studios, a video game production company, and launched the game on New Year’s Eve.

ITAP anticipates running another IT Garage later this year. For more information about IT Garage, visit the ITAP website.

Written by Sara Underwood

May 20, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Holland College Early Learning Centre pilots ArtsSmarts project

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Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

The staff and children in Holland College’s Early Learning Centre participated in a unique ArtsSmarts PEI project recently. ArtsSmarts is dedicated to improving the lives and learning capacity of Canadian children by injecting arts into school based programs. This project was focused on Early Childhood, the first of its kind in Prince Edward Island, as ArtsSmarts projects are typically undertaken with school-aged children. This time, the participants were only 1-5 years old.

The concept for the project was developed by Vicki AllenCook and Helena Essery, from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and guest artist Julia Sauvé. The team worked with the children to determine how to create an art project that would support the objectives of the provincial early learning framework curriculum. After observing the youngsters at play and listening to their conversations and questions, the concept of “The Dance of the Butterfly” emerged.

Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

“Preschool children are often interested in the life cycle of the butterfly,” Susan Ashley, faculty liaison between the Early Learning Centre and Holland College’s Early Childhood Care and Education program explained. “This project explored the life cycle through visual arts, music, drama, creative movement, and dance. Encouraging even the youngest children to use their imaginations is essential to their development as creative thinkers.”

Well-known dancer Julia Sauvé developed a music and movement piece for the infants and young toddlers using variations of the children’s song Eency Weency Spider. The 2- to 5-year-olds learned elements of dance and performance as they played various roles: the hungry caterpillar, the sleepy chrysalis, and the soaring butterfly searching for nectar.

Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

The children made their own antennae and wings, and used their nap time blankets in an interpretative dance. Staff, students from the Early Childhood Care and Education program and the children worked with Julia as they interpreted the transformation.

“The children performed for each other, which made the entire project very relaxed and non-threatening,” Susan said. “And to celebrate the success of their performance, the event ended with a grand dance party!”

Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

Suzanne MacKenzie, Director of the Early Learning Center, said that the project was well worth the time and effort expended by everyone.

“To watch this project come together was an incredible experience. It flowed from a creative vision, to the inclusion of all children, incorporating the education and developmental pieces, followed by the implementation of the final dance and celebration. The additional pleasure of the experience was the breath-taking photos and video that will be forever treasured by many. I have a great deal of respect for those involved in this project and their beautiful talents.”

The information about the project is part of an ArtsSmarts exhibit in the Gallery of Confederation Centre of the Arts. The Early Learning Centre hopes to participate in a similar project in the future, and to see the ArtsSmarts initiative introduced into more early learning centres across the Island.

Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

Image courtesy of Marlene Harding

Written by Sara Underwood

May 11, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Holland College Commercial Diving graduate part of historic Victoria Straits Expedition

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Joe Boucher aboard the RV Investigator during the Victoria Strait Expedition. Photo by Thierry Boyer

Joe Boucher aboard the RV Investigator during the Victoria Strait Expedition. Photo by Thierry Boyer

When Joe Boucher signed up for the Commercial Diving program at Holland College in 2008, it’s unlikely that he thought that he’d end up on board a ship off the coast of Nunavut searching for two ships that disappeared almost 170 years ago. But that’s exactly where he found himself, as part of the Victoria Straits Expedition to find the Franklin Expedition ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

May, 1845, the two Royal Navy ships left Greenhithe, England on an expedition to map out a northwest passage that would take the ships from Europe to Asia. Under the command of Sir John Franklin, the expedition’s two ships set out with 134 officers and men. The ships had been fitted with the most up to date gear for polar exploration, including a heating system and a water distillation system; and were loaded with enough provisions to last up to three years. Franklin’s orders were to find a passage and return to England via the Pacific Ocean.

Last seen by Europeans in July of 1845, the ships never returned to England.

In 1848, a search party was sent to determine the fate of the explorers, and subsequently there were many searches. In 1850, three grave sites and relics from the expedition were located on the east coast of Beechey Island. In 1859, Lieutenant Hobson, part of searcher Francis Leopold McClintock’s expedition, discovered a note on King William Island that shed some light on the fate of the crew of the two ships. Over the years, human remains believed to be those of members of the Franklin Expedition were found, the condition of some of the bones suggesting that the lost sailors had resorted to cannibalism. Many studies and findings, including scraps of notes written by members of the expedition found by Inuit hunters over the years, have suggested that the men had succumbed to starvation, frostbite and hypothermia; but the ships themselves were never recovered.

In August of 2014, the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition was launched. The expedition brought together public and private partners and the most sophisticated equipment in the world to search for the ships and the secrets they may contain.

This area of the Arctic waters is relatively unmapped, due to the thickness of the ice, and it somehow seems fitting that a graduate of Holland College (which is named after one of the most influential 18th Century surveyors of British North America), should participate in such an ambitious project…and have one of the coolest jobs ever.

Joe’s Story

Crew shot after the discovery of the Franklin wreck (Jonathan Moore, Ryan Harris, Joe Boucher, Chriss Ludin) at the stern of RV Investigator. Photo by Thierry Boyer

Crew shot after the discovery of the Franklin wreck (Jonathan Moore, Ryan Harris, Joe Boucher, Chriss Ludin) at the stern of RV Investigator. Photo by Thierry Boyer

I grew up in Barrie, Ontario, but I have lived mostly in Ottawa since 2002. After graduating from Holland College’s Commercial diving program in 2009, I worked for a few years as a commercial diver.  I came across a posting on the Government of Canada’s public service jobs website for an underwater dive technician position. I had the required experience, education and background, so I decided to apply. I was the successful candidate. I started working with Parks Canada in 2011. I’m an

underwater archaeology technician. I am a diver with a commercial background, so I do many of the more practical tasks underwater. I also contribute to some of the underwater archaeology taking measurements, making observations, and even excavating. However, diving is really only a small part of what I do.  I work with our technologist to maintain all of our equipment, such as boats, trucks, and dive equipment. I assist with acquisitions and provide logistical support on many of our projects.  I work to ensure that our equipment is transferred from one project to another in a timely and efficient manner.  I do whatever else is asked of me, which can be very diverse, from driving a forklift around to shaking hands with our Minister, to rebuilding diving regulators.  My job, in large part, consists of doing what is needed to ensure that the archaeologists can do theirs, including offering advice or insight in areas where I may have a different perspective or understanding, based on my training and previous work experience.

Every spring, we have a meeting to discuss the next year’s work plan. We decide what projects will be undertaken and resources are assigned following these discussions. This past year, I was lucky enough to work in Gwaii Haanas National Park, The Empress of Ireland National Historic Site and, most recently, the Victoria Strait Expedition.

There were a number of vessels involved in the expedition: Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Kingston, the Arctic Research Foundation’s Martin Bergmann, the Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Sir Wilfrid Laurier and One Ocean Expedition’s One Ocean Voyager, supplied through the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.  There were also a number of small boats and other tools such as a Defence Research and Development Canada autonomous underwater vehicle.  I was berthed on board the Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and piloted Investigator, the boat that was towing the side scan sonar that found the Erebus.

Joe Boucher (helm) Jonathan Moore(standing) and Ryan Harris (side scan sonar operator seat) in RV Investigator. Photo by Thierry Boyer

Joe Boucher (helm) Jonathan Moore(standing) and Ryan Harris (side scan sonar operator seat) in RV Investigator. Photo by Thierry Boyer

It took two days to get from Ottawa to Cambridge Bay. From there, I boarded the Sir Wilfrid Laurier to begin the search. We did not go directly to the site – we searched a gradually expanding area. The route was planned out in advance.  In total, we were on board for approximately four weeks, and I believe the discovery was made during the second week aboard the vessel.

Once the discovery was made, we made several passes with the side scan sonar to acquire more diagnostic images.  After this, we used a Parks Canada ROV to “ground truth” the target to get a camera on the shipwreck and actually make sure it was what we thought it was.  After this, we dove on the wreck.  At the same time, in between dives, the Canadian Hydrographic Service used a high-tech multi-beam system to acquire very detailed 3D images of the shipwreck.

I am one of only four people present at the actual discovery, and I am one of the seven people who dove on the ship to date. It was pretty cool. I dove on the shipwreck once.  The idea was to look for unique features on the wreck which would help identify which of Franklin’s ship we had found.

It was a pretty humbling experience.  When you think that you are part of a select group of people who are the first to lay eyes on the ship in almost 200 years, it certainly does stop and make you think.  Really when I was around the ship most of the things going through my head were the still unanswered questions: How did the ship get here? What is still on board? What can we learn from the ship?  I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to dive the vessel and hopefully future expeditions will give us the opportunity to answer many of the questions which remain.

Our team was recognized by the House of Commons when we returned from the expedition.  We received a standing ovation from the MPs, and had our photo taken with the Prime Minister.

When I was in school, I never saw myself going this direction, but it’s absolutely awesome.  Going to Holland College opened all kinds of doors for me. The program gave me many of the tools I need to do my current job.  I learned a lot about many of the tools and equipment used in diving, how things work and why they work.  It taught me the importance of a certain level of physical fitness for diving.  The program gave me knowledge and experience necessary to start my career as a commercial diver.

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I would tell other people interested in getting into this field that hard work is very important. Employers, as well as your fellow employees, will respect you more if you put forth a solid effort.  Your interpersonal skills are very important.  A career in diving often means spending long periods of time at least semi isolated with your colleagues.  You have to know how to get along with people.  Breaking into the diving industry is not easy, but the program at Holland will give you an excellent start.

Joe wasn’t the only Holland College graduate to participate in the Victoria Strait Expedition. Captain David MacIsaac and his son Daniel, graduates of the college’s Marine Training Centre, were also part of the expedition. Their stories will be posted on the blog soon.


Useful links

For more information about the Franklin Expedition and the efforts to find the missing ships since they disappeared in about 1845, visit the Canadian Geographic website. http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/franklin-expedition/partners.asp


A complete list of partners can be found here. http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/franklin-expedition/partners.asp





Written by Sara Underwood

January 15, 2015 at 2:10 pm

2014 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Kind of interesting, if you’re into stats!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by Sara Underwood

January 5, 2015 at 11:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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