By Past District Governor Chris Offer, member of the Rotary Club of Ladner, British Columbia, Canada
Wildfires in the forests of British Columbia are common but the fire season in 2017 has been one of the most destructive in many years. At its peak, 40,000 people were evacuated from farms, villages, and cities. More than 1,000 fires were burning 100,000 hectares. Numerous highways were closed, isolating large parts of the province.
Meanwhile, in the hope of moving permanently to Canada, and after more than a year filling out forms for a two-year, Canadian work permit, Barbara and Gregor Kuehn and their four young children finally arrived in Vancouver from Switzerland. They were en route to a ranch in Redstone, west of Williams Lake, British Columbia, an isolated part of the province’s interior, where they expected to work for the next two years. With all roads to their destination blocked by wildfires, they didn’t make it and they had no place to stay. Rotary stepped in to help.
When their future employer found out they were stranded in Vancouver, she found the family a motel room and also put out an appeal on social media, seeking a temporary place for the family to stay. As luck would have it, her good friend, Kristin Brown, is on Facebook, on staff at Rotary International Headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA, and is a member of the Rotary Club of Evanston Lighthouse. Kristin shared the story with a Rotary contact from British Columbia who gave her my name and Kristin contacted me. I told Kristin to have her friend call me and after I spoke with her friend on the ranch, I sent an appeal to the 50 members of my Rotary club. In response to my billeting request, Ray and Joanne Moschuk of Ladner Rotary opened their home to the family.
After settling the Kuehns in their temporary lodging, we invited them to a Rotary event: an outdoor fundraiser with activities for the whole family. While there, they met Delta Member of Parliament Hon. Carla Qualtrough who, in addition to her Cabinet post, is the chair of the Prime Minister’s committee coordinating the federal government response to the wildfires in British Columbia. Qualtrough, who recently toured the wildfire-stricken areas, gave the family an update on the fire situation. The Kuehns still can’t get all the way to Williams Lake, but they now have a truck and a trailer and hope to leave Vancouver by the end of the week. They will drive part way and camp.
Rotary has been described as the original social network. This is the network in action, Rotary: Making a Difference.
Update: The Kuehn family left Vancouver 27 July, the highway having finally opened, and with their truck and RV trailer, have been camping their way to their ranch in Redstone.