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    18 March 2019 / Donors

    Students give refugees a life-changing chance

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    During his eight decades, Dr. Al Barnhill has travelled, taught and  consulted in more than 80 countries on six continents. From around the  globe, he has gained life-shaping experience and knowledge, gleaned from  witnessing injustices, strife and the myriad benefits of education.

    Originally from Wetaskiwin, Alberta, the value of education was  instilled in Al by his father, who had lost his own father as a young  boy.

    “After Grade 8, Dad had to quit school to provide for his mother and  younger brother. When you’re denied something, you value it much more.  Dad said many times that, ‘Education is easy to carry.’ He was steadfast  in his belief that I not play junior hockey and get an education,” says  Al, who went on to earn his PhD in Business Administration.

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    Generous with his time and knowledge, Al shares stories about playing  sports, working in his father’s small-town printing and publishing shop,  his post-secondary teaching, serving in the three levels of government  in Canada and his decades of international development. He stirs you to  think about what’s happening in the world, providing important lessons  on the value of teamwork and the desperate need for a shared value  system where compassion for others reigns.

    Al tells stories of a mother making a dirt tart for her hungry  daughter on a road in Armenia, of children scavenging in a Romanian  garbage dump and of mothers and children begging on the streets of  “developing” countries. He describes teaching in decrepit classrooms  without chalk or safe desks for students, visiting handicapped  children’s hospitals in several countries and fleeing Zimbabwe after  armed fighting broke out.

    In one school for severely challenged students, he was greeted with  radiant smiles from the children. To the missionary school director Al  asked in disbelief, “Why are these sick children so happy? Her answer  was simply: ‘because — you — are visiting them.’ Those visits still  choke me up!”

    Through Al’s stories come a consistent and compelling theme.

    “The  difference one person can make is profound, but when we combine our  efforts with others, the impact is far greater.”

    This exact sentiment has been brought to life by students at the  University of Lethbridge, and now Al is adding his support to their  enormous efforts.

    The students, Elise Pundyk, Grace Wirzba and Jamie Lewis, along with  faculty member Dr. Anne Dymond, joined efforts with other students and  formed a World University Service Canada (WUSC) committee at the U of L.  In only four months, they elected an executive and their club grew to  more than 70 members. Through bake sales, bottle drives and financial  support from ScotiaBank and the U of L International Centre, they raised  the $26,000 they would need to bring a refugee student to the U of L  for one year.

    In the fall 2016, Abdullah Mouslli, a Syrian living in Jordan, began  his first year of studies at the U of L. “For me, it’s a life-changing  chance,” he said at the time. Abdullah, or Abed as he’s known by, has  gone on to become an active member of WUSC and to make a profound  difference on campus and in the community by volunteering to help new  immigrants, securing his own employment opportunities at both Lethbridge  College and the University, and most recently, establishing a social  enterprise with other U of L alumni to provide work for Syrian refugee  women while bringing the communities together through food.

    The WUSC Club spent the next academic year working to make their  sponsorship of refugee students a permanent program at the U of L. They  took the need to the student body through a referendum and received  overwhelming support. By adding a small $2 fee to tuition each semester,  U of L students as a collective are bringing a refugee student to the  University each year and changing lives for generations to come.

    The WUSC students enthusiastically welcomed a second refugee student  for the 2018/2019 academic year and continued to forge ahead to make the  program sustainable. The need for ongoing funding, however, became  pressing.

    “Although the student levy fund adequately supports a refugee student  through their first year, the subsequent years of the student’s time at  the U of L is not funded in a sustainable way,” explains Dr. Anne  Dymond, a WUSC faculty advisor. “The WUSC Club and the University  Refugee Action Committee have hosted annual fundraising initiatives to  cover the cost of tuition, but as the WUSC program fulfills its mandate,  more students will come into the University thus requiring more funds  to support them. Raising this amount of funds annually will become  increasingly challenging.”

    The WUSC students are united by a motto: “Education changes the  world.” It’s a philosophy Dr. Barnhill shares and is financially  supporting.

    “The WUSC students are to be highly commended for the work they’ve  done,” he says. “So much of what has and is happening in the world is  fuelled by ignorance. Education is the antidote to ignorance. The need  for education has never been greater. By supporting the program, my hope  is that it will continue to grow and that more refugee students will  come to the U of L for an education. In turn, they will be able to help  others learn and obtain an education. In macroeconomic terms, that is  referred to as the multiplier effect.”

    Dr. Barnhill has made a significant gift to set up an endowment to  help the WUSC student refugees beyond their first year of study at the  University.

    “My experience is that student refugees are incredibly hard working,  motivated and have overcome huge obstacles to seek an education,” he  says. “In many cases, they are learning a new culture, even a new  language … in addition to their studies. Providing a small amount of  financial assistance support while they build their life in Canada is  important to their long-term success.”

    For the WUSC students, Al’s support is intended to assist in a long journey that is really gaining momentum.

    “I am excited about the continuation of this program because of the  impact it has on so many lives,” says Elise, one of the U of L students  who founded WUSC at the U of L. “It affects not only the refugee  students who will benefit and be able to navigate their future  differently through increased access to education, but also all the WUSC  members who will be touched by the experience of sponsoring a student.  The program brings together students of all backgrounds, from all areas  of study, under a common purpose. It enables us to truly see how the  work we do can make a difference.”

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    The student levy supports a refugee student through their first year and  Al’s donation will provide bursaries to help cover costs in subsequent  years of study. To make up the difference, the WUSC committee continues  to fundraise and has a gala scheduled for Saturday, April 6 at 5 p.m. at  the Lethbridge Multicultural Centre. Tickets are available through  the WUSC Facebook page

    Contribute to the WUSC Student Refugee Bursary

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