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Civic Impact

Ryerson's Lifeline Syria project exceeds expectations

A February Economic Club panel on Syrian refugee resettlement included Danielle Bochove, Ryersonís Wendy Cukier, Councillor Joe Mihevc, Hon. John McCallum and Hon. Michael Chan Photo credit Nadav Rosenberg

When Ryerson University set out to develop a project to help people at the university address the humanitarian crisis in Syria, they set an initial goal of forming 10 groups to sponsor 10 families or 40 refugees. Six months after the July 2015 launch, the Lifeline Syria Challenge has created 75 sponsorship teams to sponsor 75 families or 300 refugees.

“We have more than 1,000 volunteers and have raised over $3 million,” says Wendy Cukier, vice-president of research and innovation at Ryerson University, who led the initiative. “It has not just exceeded expectations, but anything we would have imagined possible.”

Initially conceived as a challenge to other universities drawing on Ryerson faculty, staff, students, alumni and partners, the scope expande to include OCAD University, York University and the University of Toronto, as well as private-sector partners, responded in kind raising money for the cause. Cukier says Ryerson is currently exploring with its partners what the next phase will look like. “We still have enormous pent up demand but lack the infrastructure to respond. We are hoping for funding to help grow our capacity but its not clear how much more we can do with existing resources,” she says.

As well as funding, the university community has provided some hands-on support. More than 70 students are assigned to work directly with sponsoring teams to support pre-arrival planning with some students providing settlement support. More than 50 students have been working to provide translation of written documents for welcome binders and on-going on-call interpretation/translation for family arrivals, and about 20 students are collaborating with the translation committee to create a “point and translate” guide that covers key medical terms in the welcome binders.

The project was modelled on Operation Lifeline, which helped privately sponsor and settle 60,000 Indochinese refugees in 1979-80.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Wendy Cukier
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