Sea Tri Kan Photo Courtesy Celiz Aguilar

Gearing up to help refugees

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By Arcelia Martin

As church bells rang during the Sunday morning service, community members and cyclists circled together outside Manito Presbyterian Church to share a blessing.

“Now receive this blessing for you and your bike:” One community member read nodding off the next line to the person on his right. “May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be ever at your back, May all your journeying be joyous and until we meet again, May God hold you and your bicycle in the palm of God’s hand. Go in peace and safety. Amen.”

With that, the bikes of the neighborhood’s youngest cyclists to the most decorated, were spiritually equipped for their next ride.

For a handful of parishioners, the next journey would be the five-day, over 400-mile trek starting in Kent passing through the Tri-Cities and ending in Spokane.

Their faces are printed on small cutouts that frame a map of Washington — with a line showing their route.

This trek isn’t a race — there’s no prize for coming in first. Instead, the 17 cyclists participating from across Spokane will join the other cyclists around the state in hearing the stories of recently resettled refugees each night put on by World Relief and riding to support the humanitarian organization’s efforts.

Coordinated by World Relief, SEA TRI KAN is a fundraising bike tour for refugees resettling for the first time in one of three Washington cities — Seattle, Tri-Cities and Spokane.

Each rider is required to fundraise $1,979 to celebrate the 40 years of refugee resettlement in Washington.

The money raised will go toward helping these families find housing, employment, provide transportation from the airport, help with schooling and more said Sarah Smith, a volunteer coordinator at World Relief’s Spokane office.

The dozen of small cutout faces at Manito Presbyterian collectively raised around $30,000 for the cause, said pastor at Manito Presbyterian and Gonzaga University Professor Scott Starbuck. Which then with the federal match grant program affiliated with World Relief, becomes $90,000.

With these funds, World Relief can better assist families who flee their home countries due to persecution and violence.

“Then we have a resettlement possibility,” Starbuck said. “It brings in so much. I mean just for us in Spokane it brings so much culture in, so much experience, it’s a win win win win.”

Last year, Starbuck was the only one from the South Hill church to take part in the ride but was curious if anyone at his church would be interested in the ride and sure enough, they were. They even have a list of cyclists geared up for next year.

With approximately 25.4 million refugees today according to UNHCR, Starbuck suggests that refugee resettlement is the key issue for this generation. 

According to the National Immigration Forum, the United States admits less than 1% of the total number of displaced people in the world. The number of refugees admitted in the country is decided by the president, who has set the limit for the 2019 fiscal year at 30,000 refugees.

Although it is such a small percentage of the world’s refugee population, for Starbuck even the smallest drop in the bucket makes a ripple.

“When you hear, and you learn about these families it’s an amazing thing to welcome into our community. And there’s a lot of bad press about this right now, a lot of fear,” he said.

Over the course of fundraising for this event, cyclists who sign up predominately for the excuse to bike across their home state end up becoming advocates for the issues as well, Starbuck said.

 “They begin to see ‘Oh my gosh this is absolutely important’ and for a pastor it’s a wonderful issue because it should be bipartisan,” he noted.

And for the cycler and advocate, Starbuck finds the smallest parallel of what the situation of a refugee would be like through cycling, since as a first-world person, he hasn’t found many experiences where he’s thrown into a truly vulnerable position.

“The other way which for me being a cyclist sort of fits a little bit with the refugee experience and this is just a baby comparison, but cyclists often are put into real danger, by motorists. And there often hated by the motorists. And they’re often treated in such a way like why the hell are you here. Get off my streets,” he said. “But when they run me off the road, they’re running a dad of children off the road. And the survival for a resettled refugee family is to sort of meet antagonism with kindness.”

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About Arcelia Martin

Arcelia Martin is a student at Gonzaga University studying journalism as well as political science and English writing. She has worked on the university’s online and weekly print newspaper, The Gonzaga Bulletin, for four years and currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief. Throughout her short time in Spokane, Arcelia has interned and freelanced for local news publications, as well as in her hometown of San Diego, California. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a career in journalism to continue a life rich with storytelling and learning. When she’s not writing, Arcelia enjoys being in the sunshine, baking and spending time with her friends and family – who are the absolute light of her life.

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