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Riding miles that matter

Hamilton riders touching lives of refugees

by Phyllis Tsang

Riding miles that matter

The Ride for Refugees is about Francis.

The Teso rebels killed Francis’ parents in the 1990s. When Francis was 14, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a sectarian guerrilla army based in northern Uganda, abducted him. He was then trained to kill and became a commander. Soon enough, Francis became one of his abductors—he captured other children and beat them, pillaged villages, and killed at least 35 people. In 2005, he was shot in the back, leg, and neck.  His injuries provided a window of opportunity to escape. And he did. However, dreams and a desire to go back to kill continued to haunt him until he attended a Freedom Camp, which provides spiritual counseling for those in Children Associated with Armed Forces (CAAF) program, supported by the funds raised in the Ride For Refugees (R4R).

The inaugural Ride for Refugees happened six years ago in Waterloo with only one rider—Neil Ostrander—the Director of Development of International Teams, an organization dedicated to meeting physical and spiritual needs of the poor and oppressed. In 2008, the event attracted 1,638 riders and raised $604,080.

215 riders joined Ride for Refugees Hamilton on Oct. 3, along with 16 other cities in Canada and United States which hosted the ride on the same day. As of today, R4R has gathered 3200+ riders and 1000+ volunteers, and has raised $670,000 so far, with two more locations to go.

First time organizer, David Witt kept himself busy overseeing the event while riders were on the road.

“Some youths who rode were facing a lot of challenges themselves. They rode here [the meeting location], did the ride, and rode back home. It was quite inspiring,” Witt shared.

One of those to whom Witt was referring was a high school student who raised $275 for refugees, but had to spend his nights under a bridge.

The $275, plus another $40,000 raised by Hamilton riders will be divided between local and global refugees ministries.

“Northern Uganda is facing a lot of issues with Resistance Army and ongoing warfare. International Teams in Uganda works with former child soldiers, widows and orphans, and people that are displaced by the war,” Witt said.

Alison Witt, also an organizer of Ride for Refugees and wife of David, shared about another ministry she came to know while spending time in Uganda.

“There’s a woman who came from Kenya - now based in Kampala - who gathers a group of women that live in squatter areas. Their families have been killed, many of them have been raped, and they are separated from their children,” Alison said. “She [the woman from Kenya] not only gathered them, she also found resources to provide them with basic medical care, teach them to run micro business, and provide skills training for them.”

“It’s a brutal story,” Alison added.

Stories like this are not incidental. “There are an estimated 68 million displaced people in the world,” roughly double the population of Canada, according to the R4R website.

In Canada, 10,400 refugees were resettled in 2005. We are the third largest country resettling refugees, behind only the USA and Australia.

Local ministries, like Micah House in Hamilton, provide shelter and assistance for newly arrived refugees who would otherwise be homeless upon their arrival.

“The important thing is to be aware of the issues of refugees and issues around the world,” David stated.  “We need to be aware of that and think of ways to care well for them.”

Markham is hosting its Ride for Refugees on Oct. 17. Check Ride for Refugees website for more details.  Join the ride because “every mile matters!”

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phyllistsang (phyllis tsang)
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