Inspiring Story: This Man who Spent $1.5 million to Save 200 Syrian Refugees

1,228 Views Updated: 05 Oct 2017
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Inspiring Story: This Man who Spent $1.5 million to Save 200 Syrian Refugees

As he browsed through the television channels, the news of Syrian Refugees got Jim Estill worked up. The very moment made him realize that he didn’t want to turn 80 and apprehend the fact that he could not do anything during the greatest humanitarian crisis of his time. He was deeply affected by the wave of xenophobia that emerged during the Harper administration.

It was the summer of 2015 when the death toll in Syria reached a quarter million that Estill decided to sponsor for 50 Syrian refugee families without informing anyone, be it his family, friends or even his accountant. All summer long, similar stories of refugees dying and drowning in the Mediterranean occupied everyone’s TV screens.

His aim of helping the refugees to spread the awareness of the fact that these people can actually help enrich our society. His true inspiration has been his refugee friend Franz Hasenfratz, who fled to Communist Hungary and at present, has established Linamar, a car-parts manufacturer, which is Guelph’s largest employer, with nearly 10,000 employees.


Seems like the man with the golden heart and blessed with a sharp mind too. Before signing a check valuing $1.5 million, he did his calculations. According to the math,  $30,000 could support a family of five for a whole year. He multiplied the amount by 50 and realized that $1.5 million would suffice.

Following his kind gesture towards humanity, a story about Estill’s project appeared in the Guelph Mercury on November 24, 2015. In a matter of no time, the story was translated into Arabic and circulated in the Middle East. Seeing his face in all the social media feeds, other refugees found a ray of hope.

After receiving a dozen emails asking for help, Estill has planned on introducing an ambitious sponsorship program that hopefully will grow into a full-scale humanitarian movement. It is aimed at showing a path to other wealthy businessmen for channelizing their money towards the noble causes.

Before bringing someone else, he targeted the Guelphites, and in no time, the project was flooded with teachers, doctors, warehouse managers, construction workers, etc.. The Vietnamese refugees who were rescued back in the ’70s and ’80s repaid the generosity by contributing to the project whole-heartedly.

The volunteers were divided into eight teams, each led by a director and an assistant director. Every team addressed a different aspect, and the directors advised people who would be working with families.


While Estill organized housing, his team was receiving more donations. He relied on the Salvation Army to handle the contributions, which were overwhelming. Eventually, he rented a warehouse to store all the furniture, dishes, car seats and clothes. The inventory now has 295 comforters, 120 dish and cutlery sets, 77 electric kettles, 57 pillows, 56 irons, 28 coffee makers, 20 slow cookers and 18 toasters.

Estill’s project was launched with similar aims as that of Justin Trudeau promising to bring 25,000 government-sponsored refugees to Canada. The momentum picked up significantly as thousands of Canadians quickly put together private sponsorship groups to match the government’s pledge.

He focused on applicants whom he thought would succeed in Canada, i.e., families with a bread earner (someone capable to work and earn money.) Unfortunately, he had to reject a lot of senior citizens and minors. After much deliberation, the final count came down to 58 families.

After the first refugees set afoot in Canada, Estill realized that they lack the required specialization in the English language. He established Ease program in Canada wherein the newcomers and Syrians (rescued by Estill or not) got a job and training in English. The program offers flexible schedules and in-house ESL classes twice a week.

Since the day he took the big step towards humanity, all he can think about is the ways via which he can bring back more refugees to Canada and motivate other people to join the cause. For the same, he has already met the Immigration Minister John McCallum and Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield, convincing them to raise the caps on immigration.

(Image courtesy: 1. National Speakers Bureau, 2. UNHCR; Toronto Life (Featured Courtesy)

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