…“I’ll never forget you. I hope I make you proud. Keep me in your thoughts, you will always be in mine.”
These are some of the words that are written on a brightly illustrated small package of sunflower seeds.
They were written by children who lost a parent on September 11, 2001.
When the Twin Towers came down on the sunny, terrible morning of September 11, the entire world changed. Each of us became, in a sense, the long term victims of terrorism. For one group, however, the impact of that cruel day 11 years ago was far more immediate.
They were the children who saw a father or mother go out on a bright fall day and never come home again.
They are the children born after September 11, who never had the chance to be held by that lost parent.
They are part of the living legacy of 9/11.
During the 10th anniversary memorial of the attack, Jeff Arsenault, with the Upper Canada District School Board, explained how moved he was and how he thought hard about a way of helping these children to know that people still cared.
As a gardener, he instinctively turned to nature for inspiration.
“I thought of sunflowers,” Arsenault said. “I thought of these tall, beautiful flowers reaching to the sun, and of how incredibly resilient they are. Sun flowers rise above the harshest environment.”
He thought that sunflower seeds, prepared and packed by the children of Canada and children in the United States, in honour of the children of 9/11, might remind those families that caring never stops.
The most difficult thing for Arsenault was to contact families in Canada who had lost a parent in the tragedy. Twenty-four Canadians died that day.
Many families responded to his idea warmly.
The widowed mother of one particular family took her children to Ground Zero in New York City, where they quietly listened to the names of the lost, including their father’s, and saw the memorials. Those children came up with the idea of the Flowers of Courage.
Other families described how the news of the sunflower project allowed their children to talk about and remember a lost parent. Children were able to share stories about the colours, the flowers, the plants a father once loved.
The Flowers of Courage packet which holds the sunflower seeds was completely designed by the children of 9/11. The message it bears was written by them.
The packets became available Easter Weekend, 2012. A little over a week later some 10,000 have already been sent to schools across North America.
Teachers and students have eagerly requested them and the seeds to fill them. President Obama and Prime Minister Harper have also been asked to fill a packet.
The Mckenzie Seed Company of Brandon, Manitoba, donated all the seeds, grown in California, and the printer/graphic designer to fit the pictures done by the children on to the small packets.
Bill Barclay and Beavers Dental (the Brister Group) paid for the mailing.
Here in Morrisburg, teacher Nancy Beavers’ class of grade ones at Morrisburg Public School filled some of the special packets.Each child counted out exactly 11 seeds, then carefully sealed the packet for shipping to Jeff Arsenault at Winchester Public School.
As news of the Flowers of Courage project has spread, it has allowed teachers across North America to touch on the tragedy of 9/11: it has also allowed them to find a positive and gentle way for children to show their support for others.
The filled seed packets are all being returned to Arsenault: he will then divide them into four lots destined for Ground Zero, the Pentagon memorial, the plane crash memorial in Pennsylvania, and the Canadian Memorial at Beechwood.
On the September 11, 2012, memorial day the sunflowers will be distributed by the children of 9/11.
This May 16, there will be a formal ceremony held at Arsenault’s home school in Winchester: it will be broadcast by internet to schools all across North America, including two special schools in Toronto, attended by Canadian children of 9/11.
The seed packets will be delivered to schools by Brinks Security, Canada, which also lost an employee in the Towers.
Members of the R.C.M.P., the O.P.P., firefighters, officials from the United States Embassy, Max Keeping, and the families of 9/11 victims including Maureen Basnicki, whose husband Ken was lost, are all coming to the ceremony. Governor General David Johnston and Defense Minister Peter MacKay have been invited.
“We all feel the losses of 9/11,” Arsenault said. “These flowers are a way to show these children that we still care. We remember them daily. We don’t forget.”