Wheeling Out The Welcome Mat for Canada’s Refugees

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Charity Spotlight: This blog post is part of our charity spotlight series and was provided by Julian West, Making Tracks Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre.

Just over a year ago, when Halifax, Nova Scotia welcomed more than 800 Syrian refugees, cycling-minded groups came together to roll out the welcome mat. As newcomers arrived, it became increasingly clear that many refugee families and other newcomers were limited due to the economic cost of commuting. Because of this, the Welcoming Wheels program was born, providing new Canadians with free bicycles, safety equipment, safe cycling training, and other supports to improve their transportation access, personal wellness, community connectedness, and more. Plus, it’s an environmentally friendly program that is great for the planet.

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Welcoming Wheels provides new Canadians with increased access to services, appointments, amenities, and jobs.

“A bike is a simple solution to a lot of complex problems,” says Adam Berry, lead of the Welcoming Wheels program who believes that having a reliable source of transportation is something many of us take for granted. “I feel like we’re helping some people who’ve come from a difficult situation, find a little bit more freedom and happiness in their lives.”

With approximately 26 percent of Nova Scotia’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from its transportation sector, Julian West from the Ecology Action Centre believes that promoting cycling is the perfect opportunity to benefit the environment.

“Cycling has the potential to drastically reduce carbon emissions from passenger vehicles,” says West. “I can’t think of a better gift to give someone than a bicycle that provides so many lasting benefits.”

It’s About Community

Welcoming Wheels is led by the Ecology Action Centre in close partnership with the in-kind support of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, Halifax Cycling Coalition, Halifax Parks and Recreation, and others. But, at the heart of Welcoming Wheels are dozens of volunteers who assist with bike repair, bike gifting, training, translation, and more. Each individual has a unique set of skills to contribute, but as much as volunteers contribute their time and talent to the cause, the program is rewarding in itself as it connects so many to a warm and welcoming community. This is especially apparent during bicycle gifting and training events when new Canadians receive their bikes with a smile.

“I am happy, very happy.”—Zayad Abynabbaot, a 15-year-old bicycle recipient.

According to Kelsey Lane, Executive Director of the Halifax Cycling Coalition, the arrival of Syrian refugees has sparked a tremendous amount of generosity in the community.

“Since day one, the outpouring of generosity has been tremendous,” said Lane. “It humbles you to see the challenges that some newcomers face.”

Pedalling Forward

The future of the Welcoming Wheels program is gearing up to make an even bigger impact. New partnerships are forming and the program is enhancing to better serve the needs of so many new Canadians.

This summer, the Welcoming Wheels program will serve at least 75 new Canadians. This is in addition to the 62 who took part last year, and this fall, partners will bring volunteers, participants and funders together to say thank you by celebrating the program’s great success.

About the Ecology Action Centre

Welcoming Wheels is one of the many programs run by the Ecology Action Centre, based in Nova Scotia. We are leaders when it comes to critical environmental issues; from biodiversity protection to climate change, or even environmental justice, we are grounded in community and act as an environment watchdog. We catalyze change through policy advocacy, community development, and education. We take a holistic approach to caring for the environment and our economy by creating a just and sustainable society.

To learn more about the Ecology Action Centre, or to make a donation, please visit their Charity Profile Page.

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