HANTSPORT, N.S. — When three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed ashore on a beach in the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015, his family’s plight — and that of fellow Syrian refugees — made international headlines.
The Kurdi family had been trying to reach Canada to escape the devastation in their home village. The small life boat carrying refugees overturned, with several people drowning.
Hants County teacher Kate Sircom was moved to tears when she heard the news — and then she was moved to action.
“I just burst into tears,” recalled Sircom, who was listening to the news while en route to a teachers' workshop.
“You feel so helpless, but there is something that we can do,” said Sircom. “I think a whole lot of people felt that same way because it was at that time that a whole lot of communities in Nova Scotia jumped in and said, 'we'll sponsor a refugee.’”
Sircom is the chair of the Hantsport Refugee Sponsorship Committee — a group she helped form with a friend.
The committee, which has seven core members and about 20 people involved as supporters, has raised $11,000 to date.
“Our goal is to bring a family to live in Hantsport,” said Sircom. “In order to do that, we need to raise $40,000 because that is the amount that it would take to support a family of five.”
The money would be used to pay for the family’s airfare and accommodations, food and clothing, plus health care — as many refugees don’t have access to such basics as dental care. She said they would also help with enrolling children into school and helping them learn English.
They raised the lion's share of funds at a harvest dinner and dance in Wolfville on Sept. 30. The majority of food and beverages were donated by local producers, the committee cooked the meal, a local band provided the entertainment, and Scotiabank donated $5,000. They’ve also held a dance at the Hantsport Memorial Community Centre and sold popcorn at the Al Whittle Theatre during a recent showing of a movie relating to the refugee crisis.
They have an ongoing fundraiser with School Street Studio Glass. The Hantsport-based business has donated white doves for the committee to sell.
“If everybody in Hantsport and Windsor bought a dove for $10, we'd have a lot of money,” Sircom said.
“We're hoping that we might get some donors. We're making a direct appeal to the community.”
She said once they reach $20,000 raised, they’ll start actively looking for a family. Sircom said while a lot of the refugees are Syrians, there are displaced people from other countries that could be brought to Hantsport as well.
Sircom said if the roles were reversed and Nova Scotians were in trouble, she'd hope other countries would welcome them with open arms as well.
“Nobody chooses to be a refugee. They don't want to come to Hantsport — they want to stay in their own home. But their own home is literally not there anymore. They don't have a home to go to and their country isn't functioning anymore so they can't stay in their country,” said Sircom.
“It's not a great situation; especially if you've got kids and you've got hopes for your kids and dreams for your kids. They could spend the next 25 years in a refugee camp,” she continued.
Sircom said inviting refugees to the area and helping them get back on their feet will not only help the family in need, but benefit the community as well.
“As well as wanting to help others, our group believes there is a benefit to our small community in welcoming people from other countries,” she said in a follow up email.
“Most people in Canada live in multicultural environments and our children are growing up in a world which will require them to work with people of different cultures, languages and religions. Growing up with a new Canadian family will help our children learn tolerance, trust and understanding. And who knows what ideas and energy will come from this?”