Mahdieh Rezaie became a lifeline for Syrian refugees in 2016

There are still nearly 2,000 refugees in Lifeline’s caseload waiting to be helped, and their refugees claims can’t be submitted to the government until they’re matched with sponsors.


An image pressed into the memories of many Canadians is that of newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau standing at Pearson Airport, teddy bear in hand, welcoming the first wave of Syrian refugees to their new home, Toronto. 

In the past year, more than 35,000 migrants have arrived from war-torn Syria, more than 12,000 of them settling in the GTA. Lifeline Syria, a Toronto-based non-profit, has been instrumental in assisting the private sponsorship of many of them. The group recruits and trains sponsors and works with Syrian newcomers to ensure a smooth transition. 

Just as importantly, Lifeline Syria helps keep the urgency of refugee resettlement in the minds of Canadians through its fundraising efforts, clothing drives and meaningful campaigns. The organization’s eight full-time staff members -depend on the help of volunteers. 

Sixteen-year-old Mahdieh Rezaie is one of them. Since starting a co-op term with the group in September, she’s become one of Lifeline’s most dedicated participants. 

Five days a week, Rezaie makes the one-hour trek on the TTC from Marc Garneau Collegiate in Thorncliffe Park to Lifeline’s downtown headquarters. She’s currently working on a video project “to show why Lifeline Syria’s work is important.” Part of that has included interviewing Syrian newcomers who are students at her school, where she’s also been active in student fundraising efforts as a member of the Save the Syrian Children club.

Rezaie’s desire to donate most of her free time to helping Syrian refugees might seem unusual for a teenager. Her interest is driven by personal experience. Her family was forced to leave Iran in 2005 to get the help they needed when her father -became paralyzed after a stroke. 

Rezaie, who has five siblings, recalls the anxiety and loneliness of having to leave home.

“At the age of five, I had to learn a new language and make new friends,” she recalls. “I needed a lot of help. I now have a lot to be grateful for, and I’m thankful to live in Canada and have all these opportunities,” she says. “It’s my turn to help others.”

Seher Shafiq, Lifeline Syria’s manager of volunteers and community engagement, says the momentum behind fundraising and sponsorships for Syrian refugees has dampened some in the last few months, perhaps because people think Canada has already done enough. 

There are, however, still nearly 2,000 refugees in Lifeline’s caseload waiting to be helped, and their refugees claims can’t be submitted to the government until they’re matched with sponsors. This makes volunteers like Rezaie even more vital.

“As humans, it’s our job to help others,” says Rezaie. “It doesn’t matter what age you are. Everyone can help in changing someone’s life.”

michelled@nowtoronto.com | @michdas

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