Creating change together 

click to enlarge CP PHOTO BY BEN NELMS
  • CP Photo by Ben Nelms

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."
-Vincent Van Gogh

For most of our lives, we have grown up hearing the adage that if each of us does something, no matter how small, we can create a change together.

But in reality, few of us actually go out of our way to create change for ourselves, or others.

Last week, we rejoiced to see that one person, connecting to others and pushing for change, in fact altered someone's life forever.

That person is Whistlerite Laurie Cooper, who along with lawyers, support organizations and even the Canadian government, refused to take no for an answer in changing Syrian Hassan Al Kontar's reality from living in an airport in Malaysia to starting a new life here in our community.

This is not the first time Cooper, the founder of Canada Caring, has helped refugees come to Whistler. She has helped four others settle here this year and more are expected as she works with a top Whistler hotel to sponsor and employ the new arrivals. All get staff housing, and a support group of locals including Cooper, of course, are helping them settle into a totally new way of life.

Cooper was inspired to get involved with the refugee crisis in 2015 when the image of a three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi who had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea made global headlines.

She would be the first to tell you that she is not alone in making her humanitarian efforts bear fruit—but her passion, focus and "I'm-not-taking-no-for-an-answer" attitude is the glue that has created the change.

There is a lot of demand by refugees to come Canada.

The BC Muslim Association reports that it gets between 15,000 and 20,000 applications annually though it can only sponsor 20 to 30 people per year.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported earlier this year that we are experiencing the highest levels of displacement in history, with roughly 25.4 million refugees fleeing conflict and disasters internationally. Over half of these refugees are under the age of 18.

Turkey is the No. 1 nation for accepting refugees with 3.4 million. The 2018 statistics also show Canada became the ninth-largest recipient of asylum seekers, more than doubling the number of claims in a single year at 47,800.

The hope is that all the refugees are finding their feet upon arrival. Those in Whistler have a good grasp on English making their transition easier, but that doesn't mean support isn't needed or welcome.

Refugees who arrive in Canada and have to learn English or French need more support and though the federal government purports to have these supports in place, it's hard to know for sure.

Postmedia spent weeks trying to get an update on the 25,000 refugees who came to Canada in 2015 under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's election promise. But the last report into how the refugees are doing was completed in 2016. That report showed half the privately sponsored refugees had jobs in Canada. But employment fell to 10 per cent among the larger cohort of "government-assisted" refugees, who are typically less educated and often illiterate.

Don't forget that after a refugee's first year in Canada, they are cut off from direct stipends from the federal government.

The events that cause people to flee their home country enduring fear, dangerous crossings and hostile welcomes can have a devastating effect on mental health as well.

Many arriving in Canada also experience downward social mobility since Canada does not recognize many of their qualifications or their experience. And cultural differences play a part too.

"Refugees need comprehensive social and psychological supports to overcome trauma and begin a healing path. But the fragmentation of mental health services leaves patients experiencing little to no coordination of care," Lloy Wylie, an assistant professor at Western University's Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry told the National Post.

The road is long and challenging for refugees as they resettle, but what we know is that connecting with others helps the journey.

As Al Kontar said this week on Facebook, "It has been 7 days since my dreams came true. YES, I am here in Whistler, BC, Canada.

"I don't think you know how humble, humanitarian, welcoming and kind you are as a community.

"Your kindness has made it so much easier for me to start to build a life in this beautiful place."

(Editor's note: Sometimes it's not just people who need help. One of the refugees in Whistler is hoping to be reunited with another refugee—his feline friend Tiger. He is hoping that someone can foster Tiger until pet-friendly housing is found. Everything is in place to bring Tiger to Whistler. If you can help, drop me an email at


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