Why a Newfoundland Kindness to Strangers Tour?

Kevin Tuerff
4 min readAug 2, 2017

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By Kevin Tuerff

Author of Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11 and portrayed as “Kevin T” in the Broadway Tony-award winning musical COME FROM AWAY.

Click here to see a list of Kindness To Strangers events across Newfoundland August 3–15.

On September 11, 2001, the world was in shock over the horrific terror attacks on America. That day, I was flying across the Atlantic Ocean from Paris to New York City, when US airspace was closed.

Our plane, and 38 others were diverted to the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland (pop. 9,000). People from all across Newfoundland and Labrador took in thousands of stranded international travelers. They brought them into their schools, churches and homes, offering the same things that refugees of war need: food, clothing, shelter and information. On 9/11, It was a rare time to be a “refugee” from America. By UN definition, we weren’t refugees and we weren’t seeking asylum in Canada, but what I experienced in 2001 has given me greater empathy for the millions of refugees across the world today. Back then, Canada didn’t have to let us off the planes and into their communities. They did so out with empathy and compassion that seems lacking in some areas of the world today.

In 2001, people all across the world shared themes of “United We Stand” and “Never Forget.” Sixteen years later, it seems the world is more divided and full of fear of strangers. Ongoing fear of terrorism has driven fear of strangers who live around us, and foreignors from around the world, especially immigrants and refugees. The world has also seen a rise in racism, Xenophobia, Homophobia and Islamaphobia.

I’m honored to have my story of being a stranded airline passenger portrayed on stage in Come From Away, the related Broadway musical. Most Americans who’ve seen the musical since 2015 are unaware of this beautiful story, and want to know more. To help, I wrote a memoir about my experience in Gander, and how it changed my life.

In Chapter 8 of my book (What next? Kindness and Refugees), I tell the story of my October 2016 trip to Gander, Newfoundland a benefit performance of the Come From Away musical, which is now a hit on Broadway. Mac Moss, my long-time friend who managed my refugee shelter at a community college in Gander on 9/11, picked me up at my hotel to bring me back to his house for dinner with his wife and neighbors. On the way, he asked if I minded that we stop at a home, so he could complete an errand. He explained that last year his church and others adopted five Syrian refugee families and brought them to Gander. At the same time in America, there was a fever pitch among politicians to ban refugees, especially ones who were Muslim.

Could it be the Town of Gander, which set a standard for kindness to strangers in 2001, was once again showing the rest of the world how the Golden Rule really works?

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist teacher and author wrote, “When people around you are practicing compassion, they’ll be wiser and happier, not only individually, but also as a group.”

I decided to return to Newfoundland, to see more of the Atlantic Canadian province beyond Gander, and to talk with Newfoundlanders about their 9/11 story and views on kindness to strangers in today’s times.

The “Newfoundland Kindness to Strangers” tour is a series of book signings, readings and presentations of “How Kindness To Strangers Can Heal The Divide.” I will also interview Newfoundlanders on video, asking them to share stories of how kindness and cooperation have resolved conflict.

CANADaY Make a Difference? Maureen Basnicki is a 9/11 widow and founder of the Canadian National Day of Service Foundation. She and author Kevin Tuerff recently visited the 9/11 Tribute Museum in New York City.

What many Canadians may not know is September 11 is designated as a national day of service, like it is in the United States. It’s a tribute to the 26 Canadians who were murdered that day in America. Joining me for several tour events is Maureen Basnicki, founder of the Canadian National Day or Service Foundation. She is Co-Founder of C-CAT (Canadian Coalition Against Terror), widow of Canadian Ken Basnicki, 9/11 victim from the World Trade Center. Like me, she was stranded when US and Canadian air space was closed. That day, she was working as an Air Canada flight attendant in Germany. Together we’re united in our belief that doing service to others is a great way to remember the lives lost, and all those who served others on that tragic day.

Tour videos and news stories will be shared on social media, including http://channelofpeacebook.com @channelof_peace on Twitter, Channel_of_Peace_book on Instagram and “ChannelofGander” on Pinterest. Twenty-five percent of net proceeds of the book are donated to Gander Refugee Outreach.

On the upcoming anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I’m organizing the 15th annual Pay it Forward 9/11 initiative. Wherever you live, you’re encouraged to invite your workplace, school or family to join by committing to perform three random acts of kindness that day, and asking recipients to keep the effort going like a ripple effect. Learn more and find resources at http://payitforward911.org.

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Kevin Tuerff

Kevin is a TEDx speaker, author, social entrepreneur, ambassador for The Charter for Compassion. Read his memoir, Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11.