A group of Smithers residents is fundraising to help a family of refugees escape war-torn Syria by bringing them to the Bulkley Valley.
Millions of Syrians are fleeing their country to escape a civil war which has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Canadians were confronted with the human tragedy of the crisis when shocking images were published of a drowned child, Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a Turkish beach earlier this month.
The three-year-old died, along with his brother Galib, 5, and their mother Rehana, after their boat capsized en route to the Greek island of Kos.
Smithers woman Pauline Mahoney was so moved by the plight of the refugees that she felt compelled to act.
“Over the summer you are hearing more and more and you are realizing the situation is becoming desperate,” she said.
“I was just standing in my kitchen, just over a week ago, and I just heard yet another newscast and I thought ‘What are the governments doing’ and then I thought ‘Well what am I doing?’”
Mahoney started researching what was needed to bring a family to Smithers and discovered a group of five or more people could sponsor a family.
The group would need to raise a minimum $27,000 for a family of four, or more for a bigger family, and commit enough time and money to support the refugees’ first year in Canada.
It didn’t take long for Mahoney to find another four signatories to sponsor the family and the group of supporters has grown to more than 30 people.
“People now are just coming to me and saying I want to do this, I want to give you money and it’s just the beauty of the community coming through,” she said.
The group is in the process of applying for a family of four to six people, including at least two children.
Although the minimum amount to bring a family to Smithers is $27,000, Mahoney believes more will be needed to support the family for a year.
Her group has set up a bank account to take donations from the public.
“These people just want a chance,” she said of the refugees.
“They have skills and some of them can get going quite quickly, and I’ve only heard positive things from three different groups I’ve talked to.
“All their refugee groups have been independent well within 12 months and they have had residual funds from what they have raised.”
Mahoney’s own daughter Taya de Groot, 9, has been eager to help.
She packed a box of her things to sell and started spreading the word at school.
“We do have a lot and other countries don’t have as much as we do,” she said.
“We have all the things we need, we don’t need any more.”
Malcolm Coupe is one of the five people whose name will be on the sponsorship application.
He believes Smithers residents had been deeply affected by the news from Syria and he expected more people to offer their support.
“I think a lot of people in Smithers are feeling that right now,” said Coupe.
“I know it’s being talked about by other people, not just us, the idea of sponsoring. I think we’re the furthest along but it’s definitely on people’s minds.”
Kala Hooker, who is a friend of Mahoney’s, started researching the sponsorship process last year after she watched a movie that highlighted some of the difficulties experienced by refugees who move to North America.
She said news reports of tragic deaths such as Kurdi’s had compelled her to act now.
“In the last month, seeing that image of that little boy, it was so heartbreaking and I thought ‘When is it enough for somebody to want to do something to help?’” she said.
“I was waiting for my friend Pauline because I thought she was exactly the person to pursue something like this with but she beat me to it and sent me an email.”
Last month Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the Canadian government would accept an additional 10,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq if he is re-elected on Oct. 19.
That number is in addition to the 11,300 Syrian refugees the government has already agreed to take in by the end of 2017.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has promised to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada if he is elected, while the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair committed to accepting 10,000 by the end of 2015.
To contribute to the local campaign to bring a family to Smithers visit bvsponsorshipgroup.weebly.com or donate to the BV Refugee Sponsorship Group – Syria (account number 449157) at the Bulkley Valley Credit Union.
For more information contact Pauline Mahoney at 250-877-7737 or email