(This page will soon be updated to reflect current fundraising efforts! Please stand by)
Every day, people in countries ravaged by war and disaster leave their homes, and never go back. Many of these people walk for days or weeks in search of safety.
Walk Like a Refugee recreates that experience on a small scale -- a family walking out of their house in downtown Toronto, and 135 km to Niagara Falls. We’re doing it to show solidarity with, and to raise awareness about, the world’s approximately 65 million displaced individuals, and 22 million refugees.
In September 2015, a picture of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach in Turkey galvanized the world into action. The sight of that little boy, who was displaced from his home in Syria, and who drowned as his family tried to get him to safety broke our hearts and moved us. Thousands of Canadians started private sponsorship groups. Supporters donated money, and household goods. We talked about refugees and how to help them.
Our family joined forces with some friends, neighbours, and strangers (at the time) and raised funds to sponsor a family from Syria -- also strangers to us at the time with whom we were matched by the United Church -- through the Canadian private refugee sponsorship program. They arrived in July 2016 and have since become part of our family (and now of Walk Like a Refugee).
And we have continued raising funds to sponsor people who need our help since then.
Four years later, people all over the world continue to be displaced by war and disaster, but interest in refugee causes has dropped dramatically. Millions of people – men, women, and children -- have no homes, nowhere to go, and no one to help them.
The numbers are huge, and therefore it might seem like nothing we do can make any difference. But it can. Every life you change or save matters to that person and their loved ones. We can make a difference one life at a time.
Who we're walking for
This year we walked from Toronto to Niagara for the Lost Boys of Manus Island. Specifically, those with sponsor groups waiting to welcome them to Toronto. But we are also walking for ALL the Lost Boys of Manus, to bring attention to their plight, so the world doesn’t forget them.
The concept is simple: we put on some comfortable shoes and go for a long walk. You donate money to encourage us and that we put towards helping a few of the world’s more than 22 million refugees and 65 million displaced people.
The Lost Boys of Manus Island
For the past six years, hundreds of men have been living in various states of detention on Manus Island and in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
They left their homes in search of safety, and instead of finding welcome they were imprisoned by the Australian government, sent to nearby islands for “off shore processing.” Six years later Australia and PNG have closed the Manus centre, but continue to refuse to take responsibility for these men, who live in deplorable conditions, in detention or semi detention, in fear of the violent locals, and without adequate food, provisions, and access to medical care. Most cannot work or find jobs, and they have nowhere to go and no recourse.
Meanwhile, the local governments are pressuring them to “voluntarily” return to where they came from -- where many face possible persecution, torture, and execution. Of 1,523 people sent to Manus, 646 (42%) people have been “voluntarily” returned to their countries of origin. For the most part, the Refugee Council of Australia and Amnesty International do not know what has happened to them.
Fortunately, the women and children who were sent to processing centres in Nauru have been moved out and resettled elsewhere. But the men of Manus continue to languish, their fates uncertain. They are the Lost Boys. The Australian government is washing its hands of them, while they still have nowhere to go. And the world is still largely unaware of their existence.
Among these men is Vahid*, an Iranian man who suffered torture and persecution and left home in search of a better life. Like all the men on Manus, he is living in horrible conditions and has suffered more than anyone should. (PLEASE READ VAHID'S FULL STORY ON THE HAND TO HAND SUPPORTING NEWCOMERS BLOG)
Vahid (30s) was an IT supervisor at a university. He was detained, beaten and tortured for the crime of refusing to install listening devices and record conversations of colleagues, which he knew would endanger their lives. Vahid says, "After the police beat me, they told me that they could always find me and kill me if I didn't do what they said." So he fled Iran to save his life.
Vahid and all the men of Manus Island thought they were heading to safety. Instead they were imprisoned and now find themselves being used as political pawns by the Australian government, caught between dangerous and untenable situations.
Funds raised from this year’s Walk Like a Refugee will be distributed as needed towards the application and settlement in Toronto of Vahid and, should we raise beyond his needs, another Manus sponsorship we're working on. Funds have already been partially raised for Vahid, and we are raising what is needed to complete the process.
Each application requires $16,500 to be raised before filing. Your donation will contribute to Vahid's living expenses for the first year in Toronto. These include:
- Startup costs
Funds raised in excess of what is reasonably required for Vahid to live in Toronto for 12 months will go to the other Manus sponsorship organized by us or Stephen Watt, a passionate volunteer and humanitarian who has helped raise over $200,000 to privately sponsor over 20 displaced individuals and six families to come to Canada. Stephen was also instrumental in helping to bring Hassan Al Kontar (the airport guy) and 12 other refugees to Whistler BC. (If something magic happens and we raise beyond even THAT, Stephen will put those toward yet another sponsorship.)
UPDATE: FUNDS WERE RAISED FOR VAHID'S SPONSORSHIP AND WE HAVE NOW MOVED ON TO ANOTHER SPONSORSHIP. WALK LIKE A REFUGEE WILL BE CONTINUING EFFORTS YEAR ROUND GOING FORWARD AND THIS WEBSITE IS BEING UPDATED TO REFLECT THAT.
*Not his real name. Also, if you noticed a name change over the past few weeks, it's because this sponsoree has changed. Things do tend to do this when life is crappy and uncertain.
Meet the Team
Who walked to Niagara Falls in June, 2019, and and who supports us
David Jager is a pianist, crooner, U of T PhD candidate, writer and playwright, music teacher, and composer of rock musicals. I probably forgot some stuff. He is walking for refugees because our fellow humans are our responsibility. Also, it’ll be nice to get some fresh air.
Elizabeth Bromstein is a marketer who basically fell into a humanitarian hole and now spend her "free" time raising awareness about refugee causes. Elizabeth is a regular volunteer at Matthew House, a shelter system for asylum seekers in the GTA. The first time she walked from Toronto to Niagara Falls her toenail fell off.
Kismet Jager is in senior kindergarten. She is into princesses, reptiles, and butterflies. Her motto is "no dog left unpet" and she upholds this credo with fierce determination while on our walks, which holds us up a bit but makes us all a lot of new friends.
Terry Dellaportas is the owner of J+A Cleaning Solutions, and everyone’s best friend and cheerleader. She started dragging her kids to volunteer for stuff when they were young enough to hate her for it, but now they’re glad she did. She’s the glue that holds the Westside Refugee Response and Walk Like a Refugee together. She has also been our getaway driver in the past.
Abdul Muti “Amir” Fattal arrived in Canada in 2016 as a refugee from Syria, sponsored by the Westside Refugee Response. He owns Beroea Kitchen, a catering company. Amir supports Walk Like a Refugee as awareness raiser, driver, and general cheerleader.
Steven Watt is serious business. He has helped raise over $200,000 to privately sponsor over 20 displaced individuals and six families to come to Canada. He was also instrumental is helping to bring Hassan Kontar (the airport guy) and 12 other refugees to Whistler BC. He has served as marketing and PR advisor to Community Matters Toronto, Refugee Career Jumpstart Project and Helping Newcomers Work. That's him with Elizabeth's lizard.