Waterloo high school walk-a-thon helping reunite refugee family

A Waterloo high school is fundraising to help sponsor Syrian refugees who could not flee to Canada to be with their family here.

Students and staff are walking almost 10,000 km to raise money

Students at Waterloo Collegiate Institute hope they'll reach their walk-a-thon fundraising goal of $35,000 later this week. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Students and staff at Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) are completing a roughly 10,000 kilometre walk-a-thon to help a local refugee family.

The Syrian newcomers arrived in Waterloo region six years ago and at the time had no choice but to leave some of their children behind in Turkey. The family has struggled over the years to bring their loved ones to Canada.

Staff and students at WCI stepped in to help after hearing about the situation from young family members who attend the school.

The Walk for Hope initiative is one of several fundraising events the school has been hosting to raise $35,000 needed to help sponsor the children abroad and reunite the family.

"The right thing is to help. They're victims of wars that have nothing to do with them. That's the motivation at our school," said Lynn Schulze, department head of English as a Second Language and English Literacy Development.

WCI students walk around the school on Wednesday. They pledged to collectively walk 9,731 kilometres — the distance between Syria and Waterloo. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

'Walk for Hope'

Up to now, the school has raised about $20,000. They hope to reach their goal this week when they wrap up their walk. They pledged to collectively walk 9,731 kilometres; equivalent to the distance between Syria and Waterloo.

"We were trying to think how we could make it somewhat similar to what this family [went] through," said leadership teacher Kerri Jilesen, reflecting upon the family's difficult journey to Canada.

Mona Alatia knows how it feels. The student, who's taking part in the walk, fled to Canada as a Syrian refugee four years ago.

Mona Alatia knows how it feels to leave family behind. The WCI student fled to Canada as a Syrian refugee four years ago. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"I know how hard it feels to leave people behind and walk a lot of distance to escape the hard situation you're in," she said, noting she was lucky enough to travel by car.

"I really just want to help this family come together and live an amazing life here," she added.

The experience has other students, including Will Aurini, reflecting on their own experiences.

 "My life here has been really easy and I'm aware not everyone has it the same way and I think everyone should be doing everything they can to help others and try and reunite families … we're working for a real cause for our school that everyone is going to care about," he said.

Will Aurini says "we're working for a real cause for our school that everyone is going to care about." (Hala Ghonaim)

The Mennonite Central Committee is helping the school with the logistics of the process. Schulze said most of the paperwork has been approved and the siblings abroad are waiting to complete medical exams and eligibility interviews.

The family hopes to be reunited within the next year.


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