It’s a celebratory time of the year here in Quebec City, especially in my world. June 24 was Quebec’s Fête Nationale, today (July 1) is Canada Day and also Rwandan and Burundian independence day (I’ll get to that), Friday is City Day and this coming weekend is MondoKarnaval, the city’s celebration of diversity.
But amid all the celebrating, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring your attention to one loss. Sir Nicholas Winton has passed away today at age 106. Winton was an “ordinary” English stockbroker who got a few friends and relatives together, brought nearly 700 Czech Jewish refugee children to safety in Great Britain and organized host families for them. He never directly explained why he did it, only that no one else was doing it. He didn’t breathe a word about his actions until 50 years after the fact.
““One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organization to do that. Why did I do it? Why do people do different things. Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all,” he said in an interview.
Around the world– Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burundi, Congo, Myanmar, Central America– innocent people are still risking their lives just by leaving their houses each day, weaving an attempt of normality through the shreds of conflict. Their only wrong was to be born into a certain group in a certain country, and not to have the resources to get out on their own.
Modern refugee crises need their Nicholas Winton. They need their Marion Dewar– the late mayor of Ottawa who challenged her citizens to accept 4000 Vietnamese boat people, and was able to do it and encourage other Canadian cities to do the right thing.
It could be any of us. It should be.
Read Nicholas Winton’s story here.
Read more about Marion Dewar’s story here.