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This Richmond foundation thanklessly steps up in the wake of unprecedented natural disasters

Canadian International Education Assistance Foundation is currently assisting people in Turkey and Syria
Chak Au speaking at a Canadian International Education Assistance Foundation event. Photo via Chak Au

These are nightmare scenarios that few can comprehend or process, let alone have any idea as to how they can help.

Picture a magnitude 8 earthquake and its aftermath: cities are ruined, a generation of lives are lost and family ties are forever broken.

In the wake of all of this are scores of first responders stretched to their physical and emotional limits for weeks, if not months.

It’s in these moments of despair that the Canadian International Education Assistance Foundation (CIEAF) springs into action with compassion, knowledge and care.

This Richmond-based group has provided trauma support, fundraising efforts and all manner of financial, physical and emotional support for more than two decades.

And with the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the group’s work has never been more pressing or prescient.

“Our model is do what you can,” says foundation founder and director Chak Au. “We know our limits, we know our resources and we know what we can do. And we do what we can, when we can.”

A longtime Richmond city councillor and family therapist, Au and his fellow foundation members trace their roots in disaster recovery back to 1999, when a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck Jiji, Nantou County, Taiwan.

He led a Richmond volunteer medical aid team to Taiwan and provided psychological first-aid to the survivors, victims, and first responders. That was the first “on-the-job training” for him on a major natural disaster relief. 

They also helped after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, followed by the magnitude 8 earthquake that hit China’s Sichuan province in 2008.

From there, the CIEAF was formed in 2009.

Since then, the Foundation has participated in many relief operations in Haiti, Japan, Nepal, and the Philippines.

The foundation’s goals are to provide direct, post-trauma, resilience-building services to the victims and to train locals in the affected areas. Students, teachers, volunteers and social workers are the foundation’s target groups and they may need assistance in a myriad of forms: post-trauma resilience services and counselling, financial assistance, fundraising, donor drives and more.

“This is in my blood — my parents taught me that we should do our best to help people who are in need,” Au said. “And now in my family, I’m well surrounded by my wife and son who are also active in volunteering. All the directors in our organization are very active people.”

That brings us to present day and the aftermath of the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6, killing tens of thousands.

The CIEAF immediately sprang into action. A week-long donation campaign netted more than 5,500 pounds worth of essentials: socks, sweaters, scarves, jackets and more.

A fundraising dinner held at Continental Seafood Restaurant in late February raised more than $80,000 from the 500-plus attendees.

“Since then, people who were not able to come to the fundraising dinner but wanted to donate are still donating to the cause,” said restaurant owner and foundation chair Tom Mah. “Almost all of my staff worked for free that night and donated their wages towards the fundraising, they were very supportive of our efforts.”

The foundation is still collecting funds and assessing how best to support recovery efforts in Turkey and Syria. Those interested in donating are encouraged to log on to