At 7:00 PM, this past Friday, over 100 WCI students shuffled into the school out of the cold, loaded down with sleeping bags and pillows, ready to play games, talk with their friends, and watch movies throughout the night. Despite the fact that these Vikings had not eaten since 7:00 AM that morning, the energy in the front foyer as they all checked in was unmistakable. When everyone had finally arrived and found their seat in the auditorium, the kick-off assembly for Fast for Freedom began.
Many guest speakers discussed their respective causes or told their stories. Supported by Fast for Freedom in the past, Education for Change was introduced by its founder, WCI Social Worker, Abdi Maawiye. The charity provides mobile schools, libraries, and teachers’ training to neglected villages in Mr. Maawiye’s home region in Ethiopia. This was followed by a testimonial from grade 12 student, Hoda A., about her journey to Syria, Jordan, and finally, Canada, as a refugee fleeing the Iraq War.
One of the most moving moments of the night, however, had to do with the other charity to which the Fast for Freedom donations are going this year: WCI’s co-sponsorship of a Syrian refugee family with Calvary United Church and Mennonite Central Committee. Before partnering with the school, Calvary United had already committed to sponsoring a family and, on Boxing Day, this family’s plane from Syria landed in Toronto. Currently, the family of three, a mother and her two sons, is living with a Canadian host family, the Stretches. On Friday night, Stephanie Stretch and the two sons, Ibrahim and Diaa, who will be attending WCI next semester, visited our school. Stretch spoke of her family’s decision to act as hosts here in Canada and their experiences living in the same home with their guests. All of this, paired with the attendance of these two future Vikings, had a large impact on the Fast for Freedom participants.
“Fast” for Freedom
With all of the attention on these worthy causes, many participants do forget to focus on the original purpose of this event: a 24-hour fast. Fast for Freedom is notorious for many participants giving up quickly or not fasting at all. While numerous students do follow through on their pledge, the lapse of fasting by a few raises concerns about the true value of Fast for Freedom as this somewhat negates the purpose of the overnight event.
Sarah E., one of the Charities Controllers on ABCD and organizers of Fast for Freedom, explained, “I just think it’s important to have an event where everyone can just get together. It’s building a community within the school before you’re helping out charities in the community outside of the school.”
Narges J., the other Charity Controller and event organizer, continued: “It’s also not a material object you’re getting out of it, which I really like. It’s more of an experience you’re getting.”
Many of the students who attended Fast for Freedom agreed that a large reason why they signed up was for the experience. Grade 11 student, Esme S., decided to participate because she thinks that it is both an excellent cause and that it builds bridges between students who normally would not feel comfortable approaching one another. “Most charity things or events that are run do one or the other,” she stated. “This is great because it connects both of those things together.”
For some, it was even more personal than just the experience: “I care a lot about the Syrian refugee crisis,” disclosed fifth year student, Sheffi B. “I was born in Israel, and I’ve never actually met anyone from any surrounding countries and so, for me, this was a big deal because this was something close to home for me.”
Building connections within the school and with the outside community appeared to be a common theme during the night. A mismatched group of WCI students from various grades started a soccer game with Ibrahim and Diaa, which visibly brought all of the players closer together and was so popular that other activities were postponed for fear of breaking up the game early.
Sarah and Narges were very pleased with how the night went and, although they agreed the experience gained from the event is important, they suggested to future Fast for Freedom organizers that there should be more emphasis on the fast itself. Despite this suggestion, there was an overall consensus that Fast for Freedom has shifted its focus away from the fast and onto the creation of an event where the participants can build bridges within the school while raising money for worthy causes.
“I really think it’s important to tie it back so that people actually know what they’re donating to and they can directly see what they’re doing,” Narges pointed out. As she talked, WCI students were teaching Ibrahim and Diaa how to high-five for the first time in the gym downstairs.
There was a definite feeling of community and pride amongst the Fast for Freedom participants last Friday night. Whether it was because they had been fasting all day to fulfil their pledge to the event, or because they were proud to be donating to these worthy causes, or because they were making a connection to two future Vikings, it was the first Fast for Freedom where participants could see the difference they could make and be part of it too.
Article: Emily Nighman
Photography: Luke Sarazin and Emily Nighman
Update: A new WCI student, Mouaz H., arrived in Canada from Greece on December 10, 2015. He is originally from Syria and, when asked about his experience living in Canada so far, he thought for a while, then said with a smile, “Good. No, very good.”
A word from Ms. Schulze: Any refugee is on a heroic journey that they did not choose. There is no need to pity them, all they want to do is get on with their lives just like any other Viking. How can we help? Reach out and take the first step towards friendship.
Amount raised: $5,769.40 will be going to WCI’s refugee co-sponsorship and $2,221.20 will be going to Education for Change, bringing the total amount raised during Fast for Freedom to $8,069.10.
To see the WCI’s progress towards the $30,000 goal for the refugee co-sponsorship, click here.