Top boxes

Toronto clubs create emergency kits for Syrian refugees.

Story by Cindy Dashnaw

Cardboard boxes filled by Kiwanians in Toronto, Canada, are saving Syrian refugees from disease, death and hopelessness.

At the end of 2018, more than half of Syria’s population had been forcibly displaced from ongoing civil war. In nearby Lebanon and Jordan alone, nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees now live in and outside of camps, with 76% below the poverty line, according to The UN Refugee Agency. For many, “below the poverty line” means living in filth, fighting disease, searching for food and drinking contaminated water (when they find water at all). 


So when five Kiwanis clubs in Greater Toronto sought an impactful project for Kiwanis One Day, they turned to a local nongovernmental organization, Global Medic, known for its nonsectarian aid. Several times a week, Global Media ships to camps refugee survival kits containing a water purification unit and five drinking cups, a hygiene kit, rehydration tablets and one solar light.

The clubs decided this was the perfect project for Kiwanis One Day.

Contaminated water can transmit diseases including diarrhea and polio; it is estimated to cause 485,000 deaths worldwide from diarrhea alone each year.

 “When you’re moving from place to place, you can’t carry all the water you’ll need. These kits allow them to catch and treat rainwater wherever they are,” says Kerry-Ann Watkis, executive administrator for the Toronto Kiwanis Club and chair of Kiwanis Cares. “The water will help people survive for about three months so they can focus on other things.”


Volunteers from the Toronto club, four other Kiwanis clubs (East York, Kingsway Humber, Toronto Caribbean and Casa Loma, Toronto) and Global Medic created 1,200 emergency kits for transport to Syrian families. This success has spurred the group to focus on bigger projects as a collective, and they now plan to do a major project each quarter.

“As we were packing boxes, everyone felt immense gratitude for what we have,” Watkis says. “Then, too, it was one of those projects that you could get everyone involved in. We even had kids helping out, who were asking questions about what it all means — and so we felt like we were living out the values of Kiwanis, instilling those values at a young age and creating future Kiwanis leaders.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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