By Dr. Kevin McCormick
Welcome to 2017, a year which marks the 150th anniversary of Canada as a nation.
As a proud Canadian, I count my blessings every day and am thankful for all that being born a Canadian has offered me and my family in terms of freedom. Ours is a country that respects cultural differences, is committed to social justice, and defends peace and human rights. It is also among the safest countries in the world.
In stark contrast, seemingly a world away, many others live in the midst of war and conflict. For some, this marks another day, month or year attempting to survive in a refugee camp. For others, this will be the year where the risk of drowning will outweigh all other options and force the decision to board an overcrowded boat in the hopes of reaching safety. And for others, surviving will be the only goal, as their homes and cities continue to endure relentless shelling and airstrikes.
The advent of social media has given us all a clear view of the harsh realities of displaced people and refugees.
Who can forget the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed ashore after he drowned in the Mediterranean? How can we erase the image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, a little boy who sat dazed, confused and all alone, in the back of an ambulance after a military strike? And, most recently, those heartbreaking messages dubbed “final tweets from Aleppo,” offer powerful evidence of the atrocities of war being endured in real-time by people just like you and me.
The conflict in Syria has created what has been described as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.” An estimated 11 million Syrians have been killed or forced to flee their homes.
For a lucky few, the acceptance of host countries means the chance at a new life. As of Dec. 4, the Government of Canada’s #WelcomeRefugees initiative has resettled more than 36,000 Syrian refugees in this country. Locally, sponsor groups working with Lifeline Sudbury have worked tirelessly to raise the funds needed to sponsor refugee families and bring them to our city. But the work doesn’t end once the plane lands at the airport.
That is where organizations like Lifeline Sudbury, and its affiliated sponsor groups, continue the work that began during the sponsorship process. Refugees, who are forced to flee their homeland, suddenly find themselves in a new country where they must learn to integrate themselves into a new community that is very different from anything they’ve ever known before.
The language barrier and culture shock would be enough to deter most, but imagine trying to also find a home, get a job, register your children for school, and navigate all the government agencies and organizations required to secure health care, a driver’s licence, utilities, and the list goes on and on.
Lifeline Sudbury and its volunteers ensure these refugee families have the supports needed to make the resettlement process, and the start of their new life as Canadians, a success. The work done by Lifeline Sudbury is a testament to what can be achieved when passionate people come together to create a truly inclusive community in support of those families who have been forced to flee their homes and countries for their safety.
Dr. Kevin McCormick is president and vice-chancellor of Huntington University and chair of the 2017 Lifeline Sudbury awareness and fundraising campaign. If you would like to make a donation in support of Lifeline Sudbury and their efforts to facilitate the refugee sponsorship and resettlement process in Greater Sudbury, please visit LifelineSudbury.ca.