This article appeared on the Toronto Star and was published on July 21, 2016
When Wendy Cukier first challenged her colleagues and students at Ryerson University a year ago to step up and help sponsor Syrian refugees to Canada, her goal was modest: forming 10 sponsorship teams to bring in 10 families.
Little did the Ryerson vice-president of research and innovation expect the challenge would get so much traction, not just from her local community but also from OCAD University, the University of Toronto, York University, and communities across Canada.
This week, on the first anniversary of the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge, Cukier, the project’s founder, announced the final tallies: $4.5 million raised, 102 teams formed, 150 families sponsored, 23 families or 125 people arrived and 1,000 volunteers recruited.
“It’s really tremendously inspiring to see the work of the community. This is incredibly exciting,” said Cukier, who will be leaving Ryerson to be president and vice-chancellor of Brock University in September.
Cukier’s challenge was in response to the call by Lifeline Syria, a citizens’ group that modeled on the success of Operation Lifeline, an effort by civilian Canadians that settled 60,000 Indochinese boat people to Canada in the late 1970s.
While the Ryerson challenge started slowly, it quickly gained momentum in September when the image of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach in Turkey went viral prompting Canadians to respond in droves to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Over a short period of time, the number of challenge teams doubled and the three other Toronto universities also joined in. With alumni and personal connections, the project spread to other parts of Ontario such as Prince Edward County and across Canada to such places as Cape Breton Island and Winnipeg.
“The lesson is, you know you have the untapped capacity to give and the enthusiasm and energy of our young people as a way to solve big problems we face,” said Cukier. “This innovative model can be replicated in other countries and used for refugees from other countries and it should.”
Hamzeh Mourad and his family were sponsored from Jordan by Team East End Cares, led by Ashley McCall and husband Chris Monahan — both civil servants — as well as friends and relatives.
The family arrived in Toronto on Dec. 21. Mourad’s son, Feras, 4, had been diagnosed with leukemia and is recovering after his sister, Hoda, 6, donated her bone marrow.
“This has been a really rewarding experience, in a very tangible way. It’s a wonderful way to help make a difference,” said McCall, whose group raised $43,000 to sponsor the family. “We have gotten to know the family well. They have become a significant part of our lives. It’s very fulfilling.”
Although McCall and her team had to count on Google Translate to communicate with the family, the newcomers are adjusting well: the kids are in school, both Mourad and his wife, Ghader Bsmar, are enrolled in English classes, with the former working part-time at a local grocery store.
“There are no barriers. We are like family,” Mourad, 33, a native from Homs, said of the new family ties he has formed with his sponsors. “Everyday we love Canada more.”
Source : https://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2016/07/21/ryerson-celebrates-success-of-syrian-sponsorship-challenge.html