“Too many people had died in the war and we were still all silent,” Tima Kurdi said, “It took only one picture, of that little boy, to touch our humanity.”
Alan Kurdi is the child that became a symbol for the Syrian refugee crisis. His photo became so viral that it is almost impossible that you didn’t see it. A little 3-year-old who drowned with his mother and brother trying to get to Europe was now face down in the sand at a beach in Turkey. Dead, just like thousands of other innocent people that have lost their lives as a result of the Syrian war.
Tima Kurdi, Alan’s aunt, is a face of a refugee crisis that is often described with faceless numbers. She is a Syrian living in Coquitlam who fled her home country in 1992. After the Syrian war started in 2011, her family fled the country, just like millions of others in a similar position. On September 3rd, 2015, she received the news that her sister in law and two nephews had drowned.
Out of her pain, she found strength. She is now using her influence to speak for the millions of victims that remain hidden in history, becoming a strong advocate for Syrian refugees. But she isn’t simply revealing the incredibly tragic stories of the war. “I’m not here today to make you feel sorry for me and my family,” she said, “I am here to plant the seed of hope.”
When we received her in the NorthWest Auditorium, the night of the 12th of February, 2017 for the “Night of Stories” event we could all experience how powerful her message was. She stressed that while we cannot avoid tragedy, we must respond to it with open arms willing to help those who are suffering. “If I couldn’t save my own family, let’s save the others,” she said.
Tima is very serious and extremely committed. I approached her after the event, expressing my condolences for her still vivid suffering and my admiration for her advocacy work. She thanked me for the work TRAC was doing, but did not give much importance to my praise, as someone who is so committed to the people she is working for that she intentionally makes herself invisible.
Even though she has international recognition, she maintains a profile of simplicity and just raises her voice loud and clear when it’s needed, speaking on behalf of her people. She has met with Prime Ministers, Presidents, and international leaders. She has given Ted Talks and conferences globally. However, her business card still only lists her as a hair stylist, the profession she once had in Coquitlam.
“I am not responsible for those decisions [of opening the borders to refugees], I am not a politician, but my voice was heard,” she said. She is an example for most of us who tend to think that we are powerless and cannot make a difference because we are not in charge of the decision-making.
Turns out, we do have a decision: to speak up, stop being part of the silent majority, and start acting today, just as Tima did. Among other things, she created the “Alan and Ghalib Kurdi Foundation,” an organization that raises funds to provide nutritious food, medication, school supplies, and medication to children living in refugee camps.
After the event, Tima met with TRAC’s team. “Every time I tell my story it is very painful,” she said in tears, “I need at least a month of recovery after I give a speech like this.” But she keeps doing it for one reason: people need to hear her story and be inspired to make a change. Tima has used her painful experience to inspire strength and hope. Let’s embrace that hope and follow her example as we respond to the global refugee crisis.
If you are eager to get involved and to hear these words from her own mouth, consider attending tomorrow’s fundraiser. Tima is also in need of volunteers to help her with the “Alan and Ghalib Kurdi Foundation.” To hear more about these opportunities, please email email@example.com
-Emilio Rodríguez, TRAC’s journalist.