A Langley business grad is transforming discarded tear gas canisters riddling the streets of Bethlehem into Christmas ornaments and garnering international attention for his efforts.
Walter Brynjolfson is a 24-year-old Langley City resident currently seeking his master of arts in peace studies at the Bethlehem Bible College.
Living in an apartment in the old city of Bethlehem, not far from where Jesus was born, the Brookswood Secondary (2009) and Trinity Western University (2014) grad spends much of his spare time outside of class learning Arabic and volunteering at the college.
But this holiday season, Brynjolfson is spending a lot of extra time exploring his creative side.
After arriving and starting to work and study at Bethlehem Bible College this new product idea came to mind, he told The Langley Advance.
“Bethlehem Bible College has been taking the brunt of these tear gas payloads since the last week of September, when tensions really flared up here,” he said.
“We’re situated down the street from Rachel’s Tomb, an important historical site for all three Abrahamic religions. Israel built a giant concrete wall around it, effectively annexing it, even though it’s clearly two miles within the Palestinian side of the UN border. So, understandably, it has been a site of regular protests,” Brynjolfson explained, noting how he and his classmates have been dealing with the tear gas coming in through the windows and disturbing their work.
The Israeli army has been littering the West Bank streets for months, and finding the canisters a new home on Christmas trees seemed like a way for the Langley man to make a difference.
“Knowing that this was all happening in Bethlehem I wanted to find a way to re-purpose them in a way that relates to Christmas. So voila, the idea sprang up!” Brynjolfson elaborated.
He polishes and paints them, then wraps them with a colourful ribbon and made a striking Christmas ornament, which he calls Peace Parcels.
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In recent weeks, he’s been selling them online and to local residents for $20 CAD.
“To me. this is a way to share the story. Unfortunately most Christians in North America either have no idea what’s happening here (they ask me: ‘How are things in Pakistan?’ Or, they have a very slanted view of the situation. By selling these products and telling this story I’m effectively opening up a new perspective.
“I’m helping raise awareness that there are Christians in Palestine, they have lived here for 2,000 years, and they are suffering as a result of this conflict. Hopefully, by sharing stories and raising awareness I am contributing to the development of empathy; a thing humanity needs much more of,” Brynjolfson said from Bethlehem just days before Christmas.
Some locals laugh when they see these ornaments, he said.
For others, it brings them “great joy” to see even the smallest symbols of triumph over tragedy.
Tear gas, like other tools of oppression (ie. walls, checkpoints, settlements etc.) have nearly ruined their lives, Brynjolfson said, but he has had both Israelis and Palestinians purchase the Peace Parcels from him, and he has witnessed excitement in both.
As for the locals, not all have been happy with his venture, Brynjolfson admitted. A couple Palestinians criticize him for profiting off peoples’ suffering.
“But I’ve had many more other locals get excited and happy when they hear about this project. Once I explain that this is meant to share the Palestinian story with the West, they get excited.”
Likewise, feedback from North Americans and Europeans has been “incredible,” added the aspiring enterpreneur, who noted that multiple orders are coming through online.
In fact, a Texan woman who came into the college the other day, started crying when she heard of Brynjolfson’s efforts and saw the tear gas canisters lying around on the street.
So far he has sold dozens in the online store and even more locally, with some recent international press prompting many more orders.
“I’ve received a ton of online orders and requests,” he said Wednesday, struggling to keep up with the demand.
None of the sales, however, excite him as much as the views of a video on AJ+ that has been seen more than half a million times.
“My goal was to share the story. So, I couldn’t be happier right now,” Brynjolfson said.
He is already making plans to grow and expand the project, possibly with an expanded product line for next year.
“Hopefully by 2016 I’ll have hundreds of ornaments ready so people can buy them a month ahead of Christmas,” Brynjolfson said.
“I’m using all the knowledge I’ve gained from my business classes at Trinity Western University,” he added, giving thanks to professors back in Langley including Andrea Soberg, Mark and Jani Mckay, Sung Min Yoo, Don Hill, Brent Groen, and others.