Samantha Jackson and Farzin Yousefian were deep into planning their wedding when a photo of a drowned Syrian boy in September changed everything.
They’d been engaged since summer 2014 and had already picked a venue,onlyonegallery in Toronto, for a March 2016 wedding. They had chosen and booked other vendors and made a guest list of 130 people.
But as soon as they saw the picture of the Syrian boy, they chose to scrap plans for a big wedding, tie the knot at Toronto City Hall, and ask guests to donate to Syrian refugees rather than give gifts.
Jackson told BuzzFeed Life that both the viral photo and her work at the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge inspired her and Yousefian to raise funds for the organization instead of spending money on a wedding. She works with people trying to become private sponsors by taking on financial and time-based responsibilities for refugees to make Canada home.
“It made me acutely aware of the crisis that was happening,” Jackson said. “Being involved while planning wedding gave us idea that we could use the opportunity to make a real difference in crisis and use it as a platform to spread awareness.”
Though venues and vendors typically make couples pay non-refundable deposits, their venue actually refunded the deposit to help the couple with fundraising.
Thanks to their friends, family, and venue, the couple has raised $17,500 for the project to date.
Jackson said their goal is to raise $27,000, which is enough to help a family of four resettle in Canada.
Their loved ones also helped the couple plan an incredibly low-cost, last-minute wedding on Oct. 9.
They wanted to spend as little money as possible to celebrate with their guests after their City Hall ceremony, so that they could donate to their full potential.
Friends made bouquets, sent out invitations, and helped them find a bar to host their reception for free.
“The way it all came together quickly created an opportunity for friends and family to get involved directly and passionately,” Jackson said. “We feel like we made the right decision. After our civil ceremony, we felt like it was very true to what we wanted our marriage to symbolize and how we wanted to start new life as a couple.”
Jackson said she hopes her actions resonate beyond her guests. “People need to be reminded that a humanitarian crisis requires a humanitarian response.”