Edmonton students open up to refugees

  • August 25, 2009
{mosimage}Eleven-year-old Mikylie Shapka joined classmates at Edmonton’s St. Martin Catholic School in presenting close to $3,000 worth of gift cards to three refugee families just before the school year ended in June.

Shapka says it’s a way for students to help others in need.

“We learned that it is hard to live in other places where girls are not allowed to go to school,” she told The Catholic Register.

The donations were made to the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers , which provides assistance to refugee families in the Alberta capital.

Shapka said some of the families who came to the school talked about the hardships they had endured, including not being able to take their children or siblings with them to Canada and the circumstances which led to them fleeing their homeland.

Just before the end of this year’s school term, the students collected donations for three weeks as part of the school’s commitment to social justice, said assistant vice-principal Taras Podilsky. More than $2,600 worth of gift cards was donated to three families from Somalia, Colombia and Afghanistan.

Podilsky said the project’s main goal was to put a human face to the issue of refugees.

“It’s to expose the kids and have them learn about these types of families in our community that you don’t always hear about,” he said.

Families who sponsor refugee families are the ones who are mainly responsible for them, he said, adding that the government takes a “hands-off approach” which could sometimes mean that some sponsoring families can abandon refugees who are then left to fend for themselves.

According to the UNHCR , there are 42 million uprooted people around the world who live in challenging environments and have to cope with a shortage of food, shelter, sanitation and health care and need protection from abuse and violence. The UN defines refugees as people who have been displaced by persecution, conflict and natural disasters.

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