​​​​​​​​​​​​Image of Dr. Jennifer Bryan
Dr. Jennifer Bryan and her colleagues at UHN’s Emergency Department have raised $60,000 to sponsor a Syrian family along with the Ripple Refugee Project. (Photo: UHN)​

It was the picture of three-year-old Alan Kurdi's lifeless body washed up on a Turkish Shore that motivated Dr. Jennifer Bryan and her colleagues to act.

Within one week of the horrific image making headlines around the globe in September, Dr. Bryan and a group of fellow UHN emergency doctors had raised $14,000 and joined an ongoing initiative to sponsor a Syrian family of eight, organized through the Ripple Refugee Project.

The funds raised have since reached $60,000.

The Ripple Refugee Project is a small group of Torontonians who decided to privately sponsor a Syrian family and help them build their life once they arrive to Canada. The Ripple group has worked in collaboration with Lifeline Syria, Ryerson University and the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre to arrange and process the sponsorship.

"I'm a mom, my kids are the same age as the boy in the paper, so for a lot of us, this brought it close to home," explains Dr. Bryan, a UHN emergency room physician.

"Sometimes it takes something particularly terrible that we can all relate to, to really galvanize that kind of action."

Family of eight

Though everyone was aware of the plight of the Syrian refugees, Dr. Bryan explains, the photograph of three-year-old Alan, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to cross from Turkey to Greece, prompted her to e-mail her colleagues to encourage action.

Unbeknownst to her, at the same time, Dr. Venugopal, a fellow UHN Emergency Room physician, was involved with the Ripple Refugee Project, a group who had just been informed that a family was identified for sponsorship.

As soon as he saw her e-mail, Dr. Venugopal responded informing her of their initiative to sponsor the family of eight, including elderly individuals and children, some of whom require special medical needs.

Dr. Bryan and colleagues quickly agreed to finance the family's sponsorship and the start of their life in Canada. They raised $14,000 within days and $60,000 within two months.

"It's crucial that we all look deep within us and find a reason or more to help this population," says Dr. Venugopal.

'Our obligation as citizens of the world'

Dr. Bryan says "we're very lucky" to have people so eager to help, on her colleagues in the UHN Emergency Department.

"A lot aren't just willing to put money on the line, but also time, effort, and their heart and soul to make sure this family gets the chance they deserve," says Dr. Bryan, who has since also joined the Ripple Refugee Project to act as a liaison between the group and her colleagues at UHN.

Image of Dr. Raghu Venugopal, with hand on a child’s abdomen
Dr. Raghu Venugopal on a Médecins Sans Frontières trip to Eastern Chad in 2013, examining a boy in the rural ICU after surgery. (Photo: Dr. Raghu Venugopal)

"I think it's our obligation as citizens of Canada, and of the world, to do what we can do to help others in distress."

The nuts and bolts of sponsorship

The sponsored family has yet to arrive to Toronto, but all necessary logistics to bring them here are complete.

When they do arrive, the members of Ripple will help the family get settled, and help them make essential decisions such as finding a home, a family doctor, and schools for their children.

"Now it's really down to the nuts and bolts, of when will they arrive, where will they live, how will we do things like arrange translation services, and what other community resources do we need," explains Dr. Bryan.

The Ripple effect

"I have a privileged position as a physician," Dr. Bryan says. "Yes being able to live comfortably in Canada is in part due to hard work, but most of it is related to luck.

"It takes very little to go from a position of comfort like we are in now, to a position of vulnerability."  

Dr. Bryan hopes that the sponsorship of this family will persuade other Canadians to do the same, adding that the Ripple is maintaining an active blog where they frequently report updates on their sponsorship process.

"We're hoping any other groups interested in sponsoring families will be able to learn from our successes and challenges along the way," she says.

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