Kate McKenzie

Refugees: Positive News



There has been a lot of news about the refugee crisis over the last year both in Europe and  here in Canada. We have seen terrible images of babies washed up onto beaches and been impacted by the surge of terror that seems at times insurmountable. However, there are also stories of amazing generosity, innovation and inspiration amid all of chaos that need to be shared.

Stories of Generosity

logo-schools-welcome-refugeesStories of generosity have abounded as refugees have fled war torn Syria. According to Federal Government figures released yesterday the city of Calgary alone has already privately sponsored 502 refugees ranking it third in the country for most refugees sponsored.  One of the groups sponsoring a family is the Sunalta Elementary School in Calgary and they are part of a growing movement of schools who believe “1000 schools across Canada could commit to sponsoring refugee families, much like church communities did in the 1970s and 1980s, and are doing today.” To learn more click here.

cccphotoNot to be outdone by elementary students, Calgary band, Reuben and the Dark is also getting involved. The band is teaming up with Choir!Choir!Choir! to bring 200 singers together to raise funds to sponsor a family. “It’s an honour to be involved in this great cause,” says singer-songwriter Reuben Bullock of joining the Choir. “Tragedy should be something that brings people together. This is the time to show our empathy, compassion, and generosity, and put our political and cultural differences aside.” The group has already raised $10,000 toward their goal and look forward to their concert on December 8th where they hope to meet their target of $30,000.

Companies have also stepped up to the challenge. Calgary charter airline, Enerjet has offered its aircraft to the federal government to help Syrian refugees get to Canada. Once they arrive they will also be welcomed by both Boardwalk Rental Communities & Mainstream Equity Corp. Boardwalk will be providing 350 apartments across the prairies in  Montreal and in Vancouver. Mainstream Equity Corp offered 200 apartments across western Canada to house refugees at a discounted rate. Bob Dhillon, Mainstreet’s CEO was an immigrant himself from Liberia during the 1970’s and said that his own experience in leaving a war torn region has motivated him to assist this new group of refugees.

“As an immigrant to Canada, and an apartment owner, I felt compelled to do this for the refugees as they embark on the road to better lives in our beloved country,” Mr. Dhillon.

Newlyweds Jackson and Yousefian hold up a sign from Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge. Along with the couple, from left to right, are volunteers Alexandra Kotyk, Erin Roach, Ratna Omidvar, Wendy Cukier and Krysten Connely. (Jim Martin/Handout)

Newlyweds Jackson and Yousefian hold up a sign from Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge along with volunteers.  (Jim Martin/Handout)

However, it’s not just large groups and companies making a difference. One of the most compelling stories I came across was the story of Toronto couple Samantha Jackson and Farzin Yousefian. The couple had been planning a lavish wedding and decided to cancel their plans and instead directed the money towards sponsoring a Syrian refugee family.



woven-tent10lf1397There have also been amazing innovations that have been sparked as a result of a desire to better assist in the refugee crisis. Jordanian-Canadian architect Abeer Seikaly has created a temporary emergency tent that can filter water, store solar power and survive through storms. Check out Stephanie Nolen’s wonderful article to learn more by clicking here.


There are those that have concerns about what these new refugees might be bringing with them or what kind of people they might be. I believe it is important that we get to know our new ne20151127956b0b76ighbours. Two stories have stood out to me of inspiring Syrian refugees that I would love to share.

Alex Assali found refuge in Germany after fleeing from Syria. Every Saturday morning he cooks hot food and hands it out to those in need outside the Berlin train station.  He sees his actions as a way to give back to the German people who welcomed him.

Syrian composer and pianist, Malek Jandali believes he can use art and music as a way to turn his country’s pain into healing and a rallying cry for peace. Performing for President Obama and other dignitaries he is brining his message of peace to Western audiences hoping that his music will help others to see not only the need for a resolve to the conflict but also the beauty and culture that he wants his country to be known for. Check out an inspiring interview with him here or watch one of his pieces below.

What Can You Do?

So what can you do? Well there are many ways to get involved. For a whole list of options from the City of Calgary and to learn more about sponsoring a refugee family click here. You can also help by making donation to places like WINS, Neighbourlink or Project Warmth. Two local groups are also providing opportunities to get involved by using their cooking or knitting skills. Soup Sisters is launching a soup making blitz in January and 1,300 Stiches for Syria is bringing together mitts, toques and scarves to help keep our new neighbours warm through their first Canadian winter. To see a story Worldviews did on the impact of groups like WINS check out the video below:

You can also get involved by donating cash to the Syrian Emergency Relief Fund through the Federal government where the government will match your dollars. Or consider using Place2Give’s new “Give Card” as a holiday present to help your friends and family donate to this cause. Finally, volunteer opportunities are available with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, Centre for Newcomers and the  Calgary Immigrant Woman’s Association.

Whether you choose to sponsor a refugee, donate or volunteer, the most important action that we can all take in the face of the refugee crisis is to welcome these people as our new neighbours. Let’s make sure that all newcomers to our city know that they are safe and welcome here.

~Kate McKenzie

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