09/02/2016 07:51 EDT | Updated 09/02/2016 07:59 EDT

Remembering Alan Kurdi In My Own Way

BORIS ROESSLER via Getty Images
People stand in front of a new graffiti by artists Justus Becker and Oguz Sen depicting the drowned Syrian refugee boy Alan Kurdi (initially reported as Aylan Kurdi) at the harbor in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on July 4, 2016. The artists created the new mural showing Alan Kurdi inmid of teddy bears after vandals had destroyed the former mural showing the Syrian toddler drowned. / AFP / dpa / Boris Roessler / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION---GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/Getty Images)

This summer, my family lost someone very dear to us. Everything is different now. The first year, I'm told, will be especially tough. We'll be feeling our way through the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first anniversary of his death.

My dear one was an elderly gentleman, full of years and adventures. While we mourn him deeply, we console ourselves with the knowledge that he seized life with both hands.

Today, the world remembers a child who never had the chance to seize life at all. His name was Alan Kurdi. You'll recall him as the little Syrian boy who was found dead on a beach in Turkey the morning of September 2, 2015. He had stepped into a crowded inflatable boat with his family the night before, in a desperate attempt to reach Europe in safety.


Stock photo

We didn't reach back

Alan's death rocked people everywhere -- from families in their homes to leaders in the halls of power. When children like Alan reached out for help, we didn't reach back. For the past year, individuals, governments and world bodies have all needed to reckon with what that means.

Alan was unknowingly responsible for jolting the world out of our malaise vis-à-vis the war in Syria, shoving the needle of our lukewarm response from yellow to bright red. One year later, it's crucial that we assess our progress. How have we honoured Alan, in the steps we've taken to protect other Syrian children?

There's no doubt that things have changed. Here at World Vision, we noticed an immediate increase in public discussion around the war in Syria. After four years of working to draw public attention to the plight of children devastated by the conflict, it was encouraging to have people write to us online, attend our events, share our posts and support programs for Syrian children overseas.

Alan Kurdi deserved to live, to grow into the child he was created to be.

But Alan's impact was even bigger than that. The death of this tiny boy also became a turning point politically, in the middle of the federal election campaign. Immigration policy had already been an issue, but Alan's headlines drew it to the forefront. In the past year, thousands of Syrian children were welcomed into Canada. Alan Kurdi's death was instrumental in making that policy change.

A child like any other

It would be so easy to reduce Alan Kurdi to a "phenomenon." But no matter how much of a turning point his death was, he was still a little boy who couldn't have wanted to die.

True, Alan had never known peace in his three years of life -- that makes him very different from most children here in Canada. But that didn't mean he didn't have days full of laughter, that he didn't hug his parents and tease his brother. It didn't mean that he wasn't born with boundless God-given potential.

Alan Kurdi deserved to live, to grow into the child he was created to be. His loss is something I will never be at peace with. Not ever.

Honouring Alan privately

Although he impacted Canada on a national scale, today I urge you to make your response to Alan's memory a personal one.

I think about our family's own loss this summer, and the ways that we're finding some kind of meaning there. I want to live my life in a way that honours my loved one's memory -- a response that will be unique to me. I'm not yet sure it exactly how it will look, but my life will be different because of him.

Please make your life different because of Alan -- no matter how that looks for you

Maybe it's sending an e-mail to Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, demanding that Canada play a bigger role in the peace process.

Perhaps it's taking the time to talk with the Syrian refugee parent in your school playground, or the one you pass on the street each day.

Or it could be just hugging your own children tighter each time you return from work.

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