When Rana Nelson watched the intensifying media coverage of the plight of Syrian refugees last summer, she knew she had to help. As a remote editor of academic papers at Bilkent University in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, Nelson was hearing first hand accounts of how the country was coping with the surge of newcomers escaping conflict.
A mother herself, Nelson empathized with the refugees. “I kept thinking, ‘What If I was in a refugee camp with my children? What would that be like? What if everything changed in Revelstoke but someone offered you a chance to start over?’” she said.
It was time to do more than make a donation to a worthy charity, she decided. “I wanted to do something tangible and see the difference being made,” she said.
Nelson reached out to people in Revelstoke and found other like minded individuals. Soon a new group was formed, Revelstoke for Refugees, of which Nelson is the chair. The group hopes, with community and business support, to fund-raise the $60,000 needed to sponsor a refugee family in Revelstoke.
The group has currently raised just over $19,000 since mid November. The donations have come mostly from individuals and local churches, including the Anglican and Alliance church, the latter of which donated its Christmas Eve offerings as well as other funds.
For Revelstokian Laura Stovel, jumping on board with Revelstoke for Refugees was an easy decision. Stovel has long been active in the community, supporting local environmental and food initiative projects. Last year she organized a fundraiser during the Ebola outbreak.
Modelled after that event, Stovel ramped up Revelstoke for Refugees’ fundraising by organizing an educational night about the Syrian crisis at the Revelstoke Performing Art Centre on Thursday, January 21. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with Revelstoke students in the Me to We group hosting an activity in the lobby. The evening gets underway at 7 p.m.
There will be six short films screened depicting different aspects of the crisis, including life in refugee camps.
“The media depicts most refugees going to Europe but actually the largest influx is occurring in the countries bordering Syria, like Jordan and Lebanon,” Stovel said.
Other films will deal with the ocean crossing to Greece, and will be moderated by Revelstokian Amanda Hathorn-Geary. Hathorn-Geary spent the past summer climbing on the Greek island Kalymnos. After witnessing the horror and danger refugees undertake first hand, she and her husband Alex Geary raised thousands of dollars to buy items and deliver them straight to the refugee processing centre.
Dr. Brian Ayotte, a retired physician who has been instrumental in bringing nine refugee families to Salmon Arm, will be speaking at the event. The last speaker is Gudrun Malmqvist, who works for Settlement Services Shuswap, a group that supports refugees within the community.
“Part of the reason we are hosting this event is for our committee to learn from others’ experiences in sponsoring refugees.” said Stovel. “As such, there will be a question and answer period. There will also be a 15 minute intermission. “Families are very welcome and people can leave at the half way mark so kids can go to bed if need be,” Stovel said.
The recommended donation is $5. For anyone interested in donating more, donations can be made online at revelstokecommunityfoundation.com or through the Revelstoke Credit Union.
“I moved to Revelstoke two years ago and immediately felt at home,” Nelson said. “This community is so welcoming. I would like to extend that feeling to another family.”