Ryerson University is taking a lead in post-secondary efforts to help Syrian refugees come to Canada. Over the summer, the university launched the Lifeline Syria Challenge, partnering with Toronto’s Lifeline Syria organization that helps facilitate private sponsorship of Syrian refugees in the GTA, and support for the university’s initiative is still growing.
“It is what Ryerson does,” said Wendy Cukier, Ryerson’s vice-president of research and innovation and a leader of one of the Lifeline Syria sponsorship teams. “We always have and we always will. We don’t just think and talk — we act.”
The drive to help has intensified even more since the images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy found drowned on a Turkish beach, came to light.
“I think the image moved the debate from something that was theoretical or ideological to something that made it real,” Cukier said. “We nearly doubled our volunteers since the photo was seen around the world.”
More than 240 student, staff, faculty and community volunteers are moving the university’s initiative forward. So far, the initiative has raised $270,000.
“The response is from every corner of the university,” Cukier said.
Lifeline Syria intends to privately sponsor 1,000 Syrian refugees, offering them a safe haven in the GTA. The sponsorship teams at Ryerson initially planned on sponsoring 11 families of four — 44 refugees — for a year, at a cost of approximately $27,000 per family. On Sept. 14, Ryerson announced that it would be more than doubling its target to 25 families of four.
Samantha Jackson, a graduate of Ryerson’s immigration and settlement studies program and the volunteer co-ordinator for the Lifeline Syria Challenge, said student volunteers are especially important to this initiative.
“With support from sponsor leads and the Ryerson community, students play a major role in shaping the vision for this project,” she said.
Jackson added that she believes the project serves as a unique platform for those who want to do something about the Syrian crisis.
“This platform cuts through the noise and lets students turn their outrage into action.”
Everyone from first-year students to graduate students have gotten involved, including volunteers from nursing, business and engineering programs.
Ryerson’s Muslim Students’ Association, Canadian Nursing Students’ Association, the Ryerson Students’ Union and other student groups also got on board.
Jackson added that the response “just goes to show that students and young people are anything but apathetic.”
The students’ roles will be to use their own knowledge and expertise to aid in the resettlement of the incoming Syrian families.
Student volunteers are split into five groups: finance, health and wellness, translation interpretation, political engagement and a general focus on introducing refugees to Toronto. These groups guide families through tasks such as getting OHIP coverage, finding a family doctor, opening bank accounts and learning Canada’s electoral system.
Radwan Al-Nachawati, marketing student and president of the Muslim Students’ Association, said he jumped at the chance to be a part of the Lifeline Syria Challenge.
“Living in Canada, we are blessed with opportunity, and with opportunity comes responsibility. It is our duty to give back,” he said.
Al-Nachawati, 22, believes that students can play a significant role in times of need. For him, the challenge is a way of taking the post-secondary experience beyond lectures and exams.
“University is not only about academic and professional growth, but also about developing a sense of empathy and making a difference in the lives of others,” he said.