Partnered organizations hope to shed light on worldwide refugee crisis
WUSC StFX and StFX for SAFE have partnered with the Students’ Union and Office of the President to host a StFX Refugee Awareness Day on November 20th. The event aims to shed light on the scope of the global crisis and the struggle of living day-to-day as a refugee. We are also celebrating the refugee resettlement efforts taking place in Antigonish and at StFX over the years. On November 20th, a mock ‘refugee camp tent’ will be set up in the Xavier Gardens courtyard to highlight the tenuous living conditions of refugees worldwide. Lectures, film, and activities will take place in or near the tent. The evening event, called Salam Neighbor - Hello Neighbour, tells the story of the Al Hariri family coming to Antigonish. The Al Hariri family was sponsored by SAFE using the money raised by StFX for SAFE in the first year of the campaign. We will meet Mr. Al Hariri whose family lived in the Za’atari Camp in Jordan for six years prior to arriving in Antigonish this summer, thanks to the many efforts of many, many volunteers.
Both societies contribute to the resettlement of refugees in different ways. StFX WUSC has existed for over 30 years. It is one of several programs offered by the national World University Service of Canada (WUSC). At our university, the Society sponsors a refugee and when the individual arrives in Canada, the WUSC program covers their first year of study at the university. WUSC’s operations at StFX are funded by a multi-partner system: each year, students pay a $4.00 annual contribution. The funding allows the StFX WUSC Student Refugee Program (SRP) to sponsor the student’s cost of coming to Canada and the student’s first year in Canada. The university contribution includes the waiving tuition, residence costs and dining hall fees for the WUSC students’ first year of study. While the university’s support certainly offsets a significant proportion of the costs incurred by WUSC-sponsored students, expenses such as summertime living, travel, textbooks, and technology are all expense covered by the WUSC fund. WUSC’s support also extends beyond financing, as they are responsible for the overall well-being of the sponsored student. In a video promoting the society, StFX graduate Sierra Bergman described the society’s role:
“During the students’ first year at StFX, our WUSC society is entirely responsible for the welcome and well-being of the student. We select the student, register them for classes, pick them up from the airport, provide them with bedding, winter coats, and all of the necessities related to school.”
In the same video, student Stephanie MacAulay elaborated, “we provide financial and emotional support for students throughout their first year, and continue to serve as a resource for them throughout their four years at X.”
Farhiyo Salah is one of WUSC’s sponsored students, and a supporter of the SRP program. In describing the impact that WUSC has had on her, she said, “The SRP program changed my life in many ways. Since I was young, I had dreamed to do a degree and become a nurse. It’s kind of a light that shined on my future, and in my life.”
While the fund has been instrumental in ensuring the WUSC students’ success, the dated funding model is lacking, as it has not kept pace with rising costs. When established, the $4.00 contribution had buying power of approximately $5.50 today. While inflation has kept ticking forwards, the student contribution remains frozen in time, leading to a progressive reduction in WUSC’s capacity to support refugee students. Last year, the society held a referendum to increase the student contribution from $4.00 to $6.00 - this would have provided an additional $8,000 in funds for WUSC. Unfortunately, though the referendum was supported, it failed to meet quorum (low voter turnout) and did not pass. In spite of the defeat, WUSC has continued to provide their crucial support to refugee students, and a second referendum is being planned.
StFX for SAFE was created in response to the ongoing crisis in Syria. In May of 2015, Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace (SAFE) was established as a private sponsorship group. Their mission was simple: gather funds and community support, with the hopes of eventually resettling a Syrian refugee family in Antigonish. The response was nothing short of incredible. The town, steeped in a tradition of humanitarian response dating back to the days of Moses Coady, was instantly galvanized. Fundraising events and awareness campaigns began occurring on a weekly basis, organized by individuals of all backgrounds, levels of education and professions. In speaking with SAFE members, they describe it as beyond anything they could have ever imagined.
Within StFX, the community was eager to directly participate in the humanitarian effort. At a special meeting in November of 2015, StFX faculty members, representatives of the StFX Students’ Union, three employee unions, the Association of University Teachers and senior administration members voted on a motion to create StFX for SAFE. The goal of this newly founded initiative was to raise $100 000 in sponsorship money for SAFE, to aid in their resettlement efforts.
Many readers will balk at the idea of a $100 000 goal - if it seems like a steep target, it’s because it was. In a town of only 20 000 people and a school of under 5 000 students, many saw this goal as nothing short of casually optimistic. With fundraising events such as the Peace for Syrian Walk, two Pause for the Cause campaigns, “Hair Today/Gone Tomorrow”, and the benefit-based theatrical performances of StFX for Safe Vice-President Majd Al-Zhouri, StFX for SAFE reached their fundraising goal of $100 000 within 18 months.
Together with other private sponsorship groups such as the Tri-Heart Society and C.A.R.E. Foundation based out of St. Ninian’s Parish, a total of eight Syrian families have resettled in Antigonish, with a ninth in the works.
StFX for SAFE and WUSC are both examples of the importance of participating in the community as a global citizen. It reflects the sheer magnitude of change that can happen when individuals come together focused on promoting refugee justice. Both societies invite you to attend StFX Refugee Awareness Day and demonstrate your support for refugees around the world. Regardless of the size of your contribution, whether you give your time or donate funds, you can make a difference - the small ripples of the few create waves of change at their intersect.
To find out more, search StFX for SAFE and StFX WUSC on Facebook.