Upcoming fundraisers help Revelstoke for Refugees reach its target to bring refugee family to town

By Laura Stovel

With more than $20,700 raised to bring a Syrian refugee family to Revelstoke, Revelstoke for Refugees will soon be able to file an application to sponsor a family. The broad-based community group is hoping to raise $60,000, some of which will come from the federal government, to sponsor a family for a year.

Fundraising efforts include a film night and panel discussion on January 21 and a mass yoga session on February 9. The next Revelstoke Coffee House will also contribute funds for this effort (see the bottom of this article for times and locations).

The film night and panel discussion will help answer some of the questions on many people’s minds. Why would millions of people flee their homes or risk their lives by crossing the Mediterranean Sea in small rubber boats? What is life like in refugee camps? Who are the refugees? Why should we help – and how?

On Thursday, January 21, beginning at 7 pm, Revelstoke for Refugees will host the film night and panel discussion at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre. Six short films provide some insights into the questions above. Some films show life in camps in Lebanon and Jordan. In others, interviews with young people who made the dangerous journey in boats to the Island of Lesbos, Greece, show the kind of people who would not only benefit from our help but would also enrich our community.

In one short film by UNICEF, a seven-year-old girl describes, almost matter-of-factly, the frightening boat crossing to Lesbos. “We suffered because they threw away all our belongings in the sea and we were about to die and drown, my mother and me, but then at the end the light was shed on us and it got us to shore.”

In another film by Madeleine Kate McGowan, a 19-year-old Syrian musician describes his desire to learn and create. “I like to try and learn everything… I like learning languages, music, instruments and singing, dancing, arts, writing. I have a little bit of everything and I would like the chance to continue doing that.”

In short, the films show that most refugees, like all of us, strive to be safe, to have the basics for themselves and their families, and to have the opportunity to create and contribute to their communities. In camps and in war, positive opportunities, such as education and employment, are limited. Refugees who would be interested in coming to Canada desperately want the kinds of opportunities we take for granted.

The films are suitable for adults and children. The Me to We clubs at Revelstoke Secondary School and Columbia Park Elementary School are providing volunteers for the event.

The film portion of the evening will be moderated by Amanda Hathorn-Geary who was vacationing with her family in Greece in late October when boatloads of refugees began arriving. Amanda and her husband Alex sprang into action, purchasing much-needed items for a local shelter that was housing the refugees and soliciting funds from friends and other supporters. Having seen the situation on the ground, Hathorn-Geary is well-placed to put the films into context.

The second half of the event features a panel discussion with Hathorn-Geary and two speakers from Salmon Arm: Dr. Brian Ayotte and Gudrun Malmqvist.

Ayotte is active with one of the many groups in Salmon Arm that are sponsoring between seven and nine refugee families. As the Salmon Arm groups are ahead of Revelstoke in their efforts, Dr. Ayotte will share his insights into the refugee sponsorship process and experience.

Malmqvist works for Immigrant Services in Salmon Arm. She will talk about government services and other support systems that are available or need to be organized by those considering sponsoring refugees.

As of Friday, the Revelstoke for Refugees Syrian refugee fund had received $20,718. Donations can be made to the Revelstoke Community Foundation – Syrian refugee fund – through the Revelstoke Credit Union, at the Tourist Information Centre and online at revelstokecommunityfoundation.com. If you are interested in volunteering or supporting this initiative in other ways, contact Rana Nelson at revelstoke.for.refugees@gmail.com.

Upcoming fundraising events:

January 21 from 7 to 9:30 pm at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre:
The Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Night of Short Films and Panel Discussion. Suggested donation is $5. Donations of $20 or more are eligible for a tax receipt.

January 30, beginning at 7:30 pm at the United Church, the Revelstoke Coffee House will contribute some of its proceeds to the Revelstoke for Refugees fund.

February 9, 6 to 7 pm at the Revelstoke Community Centre you can join in Yoga for Refugees. Everyone is welcome to join in this one-hour, easy and fun yoga class guided by Beth Purser, Karen Schneider and Erin Potter. All donations go to support sponsoring a refugee family in Revelstoke. Bring your own mat. Suggested minimum donation: $10.