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Wendy Cukier and a sponsor, Ali Ebrahim. PHOTO COURTESY: WENDY CUKIER
Wendy Cukier and a sponsor, Ali Ebrahim. PHOTO COURTESY: WENDY CUKIER
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Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge reaches goals

By Maddie Binning

The Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge has now surpassed each goal it set out for itself. But the logistical demand of supporting so many refugee families may force the team to limit any more growth.

Ryerson’s challenge was inspired by Lifeline Syria, a Toronto-based initiative that began in June 2015. Shortly after the initiative formed, Ryerson responded by creating the challenge.

Ryerson’s original goal was to make 10 sponsorship groups to support 10 families, or about 40 refugees. In September, the team increased the goal to 25 sponsorship groups and families. After the University of Toronto, York University and OCAD joined the challenge, the goal was raised to 75 groups and families. As of Jan. 20, exactly six months after the launch of the challenge, that goal has been met and $3 million has been raised.

“When we started, we really didn’t anticipate the tremendous outpouring of support in the Ryerson community and then the extended university communities,” said Wendy Cukier, the executive lead of Ryerson’s Lifeline Syria Challenge and the vice-president research and innovation at Ryerson. “Students are our secret weapon because they have been the bedrock of the support and being able to offer translation support, support in finding jobs, accommodation and so on has really led many people to want to work with us at Ryerson and the other universities.”

The challenge has about 1,000 volunteers and has brought about 100 refugees to Canada so far through Ryerson’s initiative.

“We have to figure out when we declare victory,” said Cukier. “At some point, we need to decide when we’ve done enough and that’s really a discussion of the four universities and also a matter of resources.”

Each of the sponsorship groups are responsible for providing not only living spaces and basic necessities for the refugee families, but also many other types of support for the year after their arrival to help the family become self-sufficient. This includes assisting them in finding jobs and learning English.

The Prince Edward County Syrian Refugee Fund (PEC Syria), one of Ryerson’s sponsorship groups, has depended on Ryerson for many resources in supporting the Al Jasem family, but the student translators have been particularly helpful. The translators completed paperwork for the family prior to their arrival in Canada, helping them receive important documents like their social insurance numbers and health cards.

“There’s no way we could have done this without [Ryerson],” said Ryerson alumna Kathleen Powderley, one of the sponsors and co-chair of PEC Syria. “The Ryerson translators have been invaluable.”

PEC Syria was assigned four student translators due to the size of the family, but most families are assigned one or two translators each. And while they’re a great help to the families, it’s not always easy to organize so many volunteers.

“Every additional family [and] every additional volunteer requires more support and more coordination, so that’s part of the discussion around how much we can grow because currently the team that’s providing support is really tapped out,” said Cukier. “[Still] at the end of the day, everybody who’s involved is pretty thrilled with what we’ve been able to achieve in a very short period of time.”

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