Hundreds of people from across St. Albert and neighbouring communities joined thenfight this weekend to help bring four children home safely from the war-ravaged region of Northern Iraq.
The campaign is a response to the disappearance of Sharvahn, 11, Rojevahn, 9, Dersim, 7 and Meitan, 3. They disappeared after their father Dr. Saren Azer allegedly abducted them in August and flew them to the Kurdish region in Northern Iraq.
The children have since been located, however Azer refuses to release them.
The letter campaign was held on Saturday at St. Albert Place during the farmers’ market and on Sunday at St. Albert United Church. It was grassroots action designed to mobilize parliamentarians into fulfilling their duty to protect the children’s rights and return them to their country of birth.
Nearly 1,200 letters were signed, sealed and posted to four of Canada’s Members of Parliament including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Maya Drabik, 11, along with Elmer Gish School teacher Melissa Zawaduk dropped bundles of letters into a mailbox on Monday. Maya was Sharvahn’s best friend when the two attended Gish in Grade 3.
“It felt good. I’m hopeful the Prime Minister knows we’re really serious and not playing around. I feel hopeful for Sharvahn, Rojevahn, Dersim and Meitan to be here,” Maya said.
The children’s mother, Alison Azer (nee Jeffrey) grew up in St. Albert and brought the children to live here from 2012 to 2013. She is now in Iraq attempting to secure the release of her children.
Jody Korchinski, organizer for the campaign, was all smiles at the campaign’s conclusion.
“We were very pleased with the overall response. We ran out of letters three times and had to make more copies. It definitely exceeded our expectations. It was heart-warming to see people care so much for the children and do what they could to support them.”
Korchinski, a St. Albert resident, developed a close personal friendship with (Jeffrey) Azer in high school through their mutual interest in politics.
Karen Wilson, an Edmonton mother of two daughters, stopped by the market to check out Christmas gifts. She signed several letters.
“They are four young children. They don’t have a choice. It’s very scary to think someone can pick up your children and go,” Wilson said. “Being from a strong family, it pulls at the heart. I feel for the mother and the grandparents and the children themselves.”
Bob and Elaine Lang, 30-year residents of St. Albert before moving to Calgary three years ago, returned north to sign their names.
“It’s just a horror. I couldn’t believe it happened to someone we knew. You hear stories like that all the time. You just hope it doesn’t happen to you,” said Elaine Lang.
Her husband Bob was more blunt at the federal government’s drawn-out pace in retrieving the Azer children.
“They should be doing a hell of a lot more than what they’re doing right now. I don’t know how much they know. If they’re aware they should be doing far more for the kids because of where they are – no pussyfooting or politicking around.”
Korchinski attributes much of the response to the deep roots the Jeffrey family has within the community.
“The Chamber of Commerce provided us with a table. St. Albert Rotarians gave us 50 letters. We’ve had people walk in with bundles of letters from their workplace. We’ve had people ask us to send copies of the letters to their workplace so they can share with others at work. Certainly all this support has been heart-warming.”
Letter writing as an advocacy tool appears to be spreading. So far 10,000 letters from British Columbia, Calgary and Edmonton have been signed and sent to Ottawa.
Korchinski added, “We collected about 1,200 letters but we know many more are sent by individuals. We continue to encourage people to write letters.”
Letter writing takes only a few minutes and is a cost-effective way to influence public officials. Anybody can download a letter from the findazerkidsnow Facebook page. No postage is required if sent to a minister’s office in the House of Commons.