Instead of spending $2,000 on their own holidays, a family in the Maritimes donated all of it to help sponsor Syrian refugees — and hope their gesture will inspire others to do the same.
P.E.I. artist Amy Seymour told The Huffington Post Canada that her family was frustrated by negative reactions on social media to refugees. That feeling pushed them to contribute “something positive” amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
“We don't always agree on everything, but the decision for us to put our holiday money toward this cause was the right one for us,” Seymour said about her family. Her brother and sisters are currently spread between Fredericton and Ottawa.
“Hopefully, together, we can prove that Canada in general and the Maritimes in particular are as generous and welcoming as the rest of the world thinks we are,” she said.
“That kind of stepping up at this holiday time of year is really the spirit of giving.”
The family made their donation to a GoFundMe campaign, which was launched on Nov. 18 to “help Canada’s smallest province bring Syrian refugee families out of harm’s way.”
Spearheaded by a collective of Island residents and Charlottetown’s Trinity Clifton United Church, the group has their sights on sponsoring at least four families to resettle in the province.
With a $25,000 goal, most donations to the campaign have ranged between $20 to $30. As of Friday, the campaign has raised just over $11,000.
Donation made her cry
Bonnie Stewart, who is involved with the GoFundMe campaign, said when she saw Seymour’s generous donation on Friday morning, it made her cry.
“Amy's donation has made my day,” she told HuffPost Canada. “That kind of stepping up at this holiday time of year is really the spirit of giving.”
As a mother, Stewart said she was moved to act after seeing the photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up dead on a Turkish beach. She said she found it hard not to imagine how she would view the world if her family was in a similar circumstance.
Photos of brothers Alan and Ghalib Kurdi and their mother Rehanna — who died fleeing Syria — are displayed outside the home of their aunt Tima Kurdi in Coquitlam, B.C. in September. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
“I have two small children. If I found myself desperate to get them to safety, I would hope people would reach out from the goodness of their hearts and help us in any way they could,” she said in an email.
As a social media researcher at the University of Prince Edward Island, Stewart had the idea to tap into the large networks of people she’s built to ask for help.
“The immediate response was beautiful,” she explained, adding people shared the news widely and also reached into their pockets to give generously.
Donations have come from around the world, including Australia and the United States.
“We're encouraging folks to give in the names of loved ones for the holidays,” she said.
But timing is an issue. The family they’ve filed a private-sponsorship application for has eight members, including a daughter set to turn 18 next year. They’ve been living in a Lebanese refugee camp for two years.
That means, under current rules, she’ll be considered a single adult and will no longer be eligible to be included in her family’s application. The collective has filed an application to sponsor the family, but they need money to push it through to advance its processing.
Other ways to give
The campaign is also making an appeal to those who aren’t in a position to donate money, asking for volunteers and donations of goods and services.
“We need places for them to live, we need furniture for their homes, we need community support, we need love and care and understanding,” reads a campaign description. “If you are are a doctor or dentist we need you in particular.”
Officials say the Island is getting ready to welcome 100 Syrian refugees by the end of the year and another 150 are expected to arrive in the new year.
“I have every confidence that Islanders will go above and beyond to help them make Prince Edward Island their new home,” Workforce and Advanced Learning Minister Richard Brown said at a news conference Wednesday.
Acts of kindness from strangers
Earlier this week, HuffPost Canada reported on a Kingston, Ont. dentist’s act of kindness, providing his services free of charge to two Syrian refugee families.
One of the recipients, five-year-old Malak, was living with pain caused by decaying teeth. The condition was exacerbated by living for two years in a refugee camp with inadequate nutrition.
Five-year-old Malak can now smile without pain after dental surgery donated by a dentist in Kingston, Ont.
Malak’s uncle Yaser Al Mtawa said his niece is now a senior kindergarten student and her parents are enrolled in English classes. After the family arrived in July, they spent their summer at BBQs, swimming classes, and volunteering with charities.
“They are more optimistic now for the future of their children,” he said.
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