Longtime Whistler business owner, Joey Houssian, who operates The Adventure Group out of Cougar Mountain, an outdoor paradise that offers zipline, treetop, rafting, RZR, snowmobile and snowshoe adventures through the Coast Mountain backcountry, is moving into a very interesting chapter in his life. Together with his parents and siblings they have started The Houssian Foundation, a business wholly focused on philanthropy. Recently, Joey, his sister Jessica and father Joe, traveled with UNICEF Canada to the Middle East to get a first hand look at the human rights crisis happening in that part of the world. They report on their experiences and the importance of helping those in need.
Acts of humanity. These are actions that reflect who we are at our best. They show what is possible when we exercise empathy, care for each other and recognize that we are part of a global family. But sometimes these acts seem the exception rather than the norm in our collective behaviour.
UNICEF is running a social media campaign highlighting efforts around the world to support refugees. The posts are tagged with the hashtag #actsofhumanity. These are stories of volunteers handing out water to new arrivals in Greece, young men setting up an online school for refugees, and children in Ireland selling cupcakes to raise money to support child refugees in the Middle East.
Over the past eight months, we’ve seen inspiring acts of humanity from our fellow Canadians. Communities across the country have pulled together to help sponsor refugee families to come to Canada. Newly arrived Syrian children have received welcome letters from grade school classes and they’ve been taken on their first tobogganing adventures. They’ve skied in British Columbia and tasted their first maple syrup in Quebec. Businesses have provided jobs for parents looking to settle into their new lives and governments have boosted resources to speed up their arrival and to ease their transition to life in Canada.
But Canada’s acts of humanity have not been limited to our support to Syrians once they arrive here in Canada. Canadians have been supporting acts of humanity in Syria and in the surrounding countries where most Syrian refugees still live. On April 13, the Minister of International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau announced that Canadians donated almost $32 million to support humanitarian work in the Syria crisis. This $32 million was matched through the Syrian Emergency Relief Fund and the government of Canada announced that this funding will go to support UNICEF’s work to provide education, protection and immunizations to vulnerable children affected by crisis. This is Canada’s collective #actofhumanity.
In February, together with our dad, we travelled with UNICEF to Jordan and Lebanon to witness the challenges faced by families whose lives have been uprooted by this crisis. We saw the work that is being done to give these families an opportunity to hold on to hope for the future and to be educated, healthy and protected. Canadians can be proud that their efforts at home are supporting acts of humanity around the world.
In refugee camps and in damp apartments we were welcomed with kindness and warmth. Families opened their homes and shared their stories. We met a Syrian family in Jordan who cannot afford the transportation costs to send all six of their children to school, but their children are still getting an education. These young Syrians are attending a Makani centre—a community centre where vulnerable children are able to learn, play and get support to deal with the trauma they’ve experienced. Standing in the centre and hearing the laughter and joyful yells as kids in rooms throughout the building learned to read, write and create music together, led by caring adults from the community, would restore anyone’s faith in humanity. The Makani centre is such a place of hope and inspiration—and fun—that there is a waiting list of 1000 children. Canada’s newly announced funding to UNICEF will help expand the reach of Makani centres so that more children can spend their days being children.
There is so much work being done to improve the lives of families affected by this terrible conflict. Throughout the region UN agencies, governments, NGOs, local communities, and Syrians themselves are showing us the best of humanity. As Canadians we should be proud that we are supporting this work.
On any given day you can turn on the news and see examples of the worst of humanity. But we cannot forget that there are true acts of humanity happening every day. Whether you are helping your child write a welcome letter to a newly arrived family or making a donation to educate children caught in the midst of a crisis, these acts define us. They inspire us. They make the world a better place.
Joey Houssian is a director of The Houssian Foundation and Founder of The Adventure Group in Whistler, BC. He also serves on the board of directors of Do It For The Love Foundation, Zero Ceiling and Playground Builders.