Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge receives “upswell” in support

As the Syrian refugee crisis continues to intensify, Ryerson University has ramped up efforts to help refugees escape the war-torn country and resettle in Canada.  

Through the Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge, faculty members and students have been working alongside Lifeline Syria, a citizen-run organization committed to facilitating the integration of 1,000 privately sponsored refugees over the next two years.

While the initial goal was to sponsor 10 families, or 44 people, Ryerson now hopes to be able to sponsor 25 families, or 100 people, thanks to a quick rise in interested volunteers.

The 11 sponsorship teams will support a family of four for up to one year at an estimated cost of $27,000. They will help them find employment and housing, and help meet their basic needs.

Wendy Cukier, founder of the Diversity Institute at Ryerson, helped kick-start the Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge in order to bring together the support of the university community.

“The goal of the project is really to mobilize the Ryerson community — faculty, administrators, staff, students, alumni,” said Cukier. “We want to mobilize all that talent and energy to address the crisis in a small way.”

Samantha Jackson, Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge’s volunteer coordinator, says a high number of staff, students, and members of the Ryerson community have shown significant interest in helping with the crisis.

When three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s picture hit the media on Sept. 2, the refugee crisis became personal, she said.

“People felt they had to do something,” said Jackson. “Since that, we’ve seen an upswell in support, everything from volunteers, people who want to sponsor families, and people who want to fundraise.”

According to Jackson, there are over 240 individuals who want to contribute to the cause, and applications are still coming in. Volunteers consist of Syrians who want to give back to their community, individuals who understand the severity of the situation, and others who don’t know anything beyond the headlines but want to help any way they can.

“People are very engaged and activated when something like this comes along,” she said. “We want to harness the energy that’s already there, and give students an outlet to make a difference in their community.”

The volunteers are divided into five settlement specialty groups: health and wellness, finance and banking, translation, government and politics, and a welcoming group.

As an example, Jackson said commerce students, who develop resources on how to open up a bank account or calculate interest, are using their skills to ensure the refugees succeed financially when they arrive in February or March of next year.

Radwan Al-Nachawati, president of the Muslim Students Association and a volunteer, said the challenge reflects the values of the university as a whole.

“Helping others is a part of our core as humans and Canadians,” he said. “Our whole campus is driving this project.”

“Loving families are being split up and lives are being lost,” he added. “It’s a reminder to us not only to be grateful for our situations, but more importantly, to show the gratitude by giving back.”

In the coming weeks, it’s something the members of Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge hope to inspire many to do. In the face of the worst refugee crisis of our generation, Ryerson has a leading role in helping those in need.