On November 6, a band of drums and chimes filled VIU’s cafeteria with an energy that brought students and staff on the floor to dance and clap along. Along the entryway of the cafeteria, crowds of people browsed the booths that showcased information, cultural snacks, and pride from international students of many different cultures. World VIU Days is a time of celebrating, and this year there was an especially important announcement.
“In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, VIU faculty, staff, and students have come together to initiate the creation of the VIU International Refugee Support Fund,” announced Provost and Vice-President Academic Dr. David Witty, on stage on behalf of Dr. Ralph Nilson, President and Vice-Chancellor; and students, faculty, and staff who have formed a committee to respond to the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
Each year, VIU’s local World University Service of Canada (WUSC) committee sponsors two refugee students. This year, with an initial contribution of $10k from the VIU Faculty Association, and with all donations matched at 50 cents on the dollar by VIU, this initiative will fund and support a third student from Syria through the WUSC committee and its Student Refugee Program. In addition, it will also fund scholarships for university-aged children of sponsored refugee families arriving in Nanaimo in the coming months.
VIU will also be joining and supporting the Scholars at Risk program, which assists academics who must flee violence or persecution in their home country, and provides them with opportunities to study and teach at universities abroad.
“As we celebrate World VIU Days this week, VIU faculty, staff, and students are joining people across Canada and around the world in a commitment to do everything we can to assist hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled civil war in their country,” Witty said. “Among refugees are young people with great promise who have left behind not only a beloved home, but the opportunity to pursue their dreams through academic studies and the rewarding careers and lives that follow. We think of those young people, along with our colleagues at universities whose work as scholars and professors has been cut short as they flee a dangerous and volatile situation and the threat of persecution.”
WUSC co-chair Jessyca Idi, an international student from Brazil, spoke about the importance of supporting refugee students. “Where I come from, quality education is still a luxury for many,” she said. “The pursuit of this is what led me to leave my country. The passion I’m pursuing in seeing my own education and the inspiration I feel really helps me emphasize with others that have no choice but to wait.”
Idi urged the crowd to get involved with WUSC by participating in events, volunteering, or showing support. If students cannot make the club meetings, they can participate in the event planning, volunteering at booths, raising awareness, doing media work, promotion, and sharing ideas, she said.
“One must not underestimate their own potential to change the world we live in and to make valuable contribution to society,” said Idi. “At WUSC, we say, ‘one volunteer at a time,’ but on the volunteer’s perspectives it should be ‘one step at time.’ Small actions for us are great efforts for those in need of help.”
In addition to financial support, the club must provide social support by welcoming the sponsored students and ensuring they successfully transition to Canadian life by helping them with things such as budgeting, finding tutors, and socializing.
“There is no way we can calculate the value of a human life, and yet statistics make us so indifferent to the individuals, families, and communities that are suffering,” she said. “Maybe when an entire country is lost, we will take notice. But by that time, generations have been lost and lives cannot be replaced. By sponsoring a Syrian refugee, we are saving a life. We are making a new one possible. It is important to have students’ involvement because it is not just about funding—it is about raising awareness. WUSC Local Committees across Canada are all run by students, so if there is no involvement of students (if they don’t know about WUSC), the Local Committee and the work we do is not sustainable.”
VIU has students from more than 80 countries studying at its campuses, and international students comprise 17 per cent of the enrollment
. Following the World VIU Days wrap up, some of these students put on a high energy fashion show displaying clothing from their cultures with pride.
The first fundraising event for the International Refugee Support Fund is December 7; more information will be available shortly.
WUSC meets weekly Thursdays at 11:30 a.m. in bldg. 255, rm. 135. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and “like” VIU WUSC Local Committee (2014-2015) on Facebook for more information or to get involved.