Four hundred miles in just five days — that’s what 45 bicyclists from all across Washington completed just last week, in order to raise money for the international nonprofit World Relief’s refugee resettlement programs.
It’s called the SEA TRI KAN, since the ride goes through Seattle, the Tri-Cities, and Spokane, the three cities that host World Relief offices that aid refugees that come into the state.
Riders started the fifth-annual ride early in the morning in Kent, biking to Enumclaw, taking a well-deserved break in front of the Enumclaw Expo Center’s Field House, and setting off again to finish their day at Camp Sheppard.
This year, they raised about $160,000, which is matched by the state government and goes toward World Relief programs that aim to help refugees and asylees — those who have been granted asylum — said Mckenzie Campbell, a World Relief Seattle outreach specialist who was traveling with the bikers.
“We used to be primarily known for resettling refugees, but [we’re] moving more into more of a community development role, and a role of empowering the immigrant community to give back and be part of the welcoming process again,” Campbell said. “The money that’s raised by the cyclists in particular goes toward a program that helps whole families, but it’s primarily focused on getting people to be what we call self-sufficient… getting their first job and paying all their own bills, taking care of themselves, being able to participate in their children’s education, being able to schedule their own doctors appointments.”
The ride traditionally overlaps World Refugee Day, which this year was June 20.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are about 71 million forcibly displaced people around the world, 57 percent of which come from Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan.
In 2018, World Relief Seattle (which is actually in Kent) resettled 844 refugees and asylees in western Washington, according to the nonprofit’s handout. During the SEA TRI KAN ride, cyclists meet with a few of these refugees to listen to their stories.
Over on the other side of the mountains, Jackson Lino helps resettle refugees in eastern Washington.
As a former refugee himself, Lino knows how difficult, both physically and emotionally, resettlement can be.
Lino’s parents were killed in South Sudan when he was 2 years old, and he spent several years in a refugee camp in Kenya before he was resettled in Boise, Idaho, a branch that no longer exists.
The resettlement had many ups and down, he said.
“I got to grow as far as how to get along with, how to deal with people,” he said, naming a positive aspect of his journey. “Back home, it was very difficult to trust, but when I came here, I remember the first initial moment when we landed at the airport in Boise, and there were lines of people with banners and signs and screaming and cheering ‘Welcome to America, we’re so happy you’re here!’ … To have a place that was welcoming, allowing me to express my emotions, made me feel I was a human being.”
Of course, not everyone has been welcoming. About a year ago, Lino was confronted by a group of white supremacists when the African children’s choir he helped lead was giving a performance.
“They were wearing these dark jackets with guns on the backs, wording that said, ‘We don’t want refugees here.’ Outside, they were chanting ‘refugees are all terrorists,’” Lino recalled.
Despite the intimidation, Lino’s choir performed their song, “We Are Not Forgotten,” and to his surprise, one of the more verbally-abusive men in the front row broke down crying.
“He felt he was very conflicted. He apologized in front of everybody and said, ‘I didn’t come to scare anybody — I came because I wanted to be heard,’” Lino continued. “He just wanted to be heard. He wanted to know people cared about his voice and what he was thinking. That’s what everybody wants.”
Lino said he was very blessed to have been a part of that moment.
Last year, he was a part of the SEA TRI KAN ride, but this year came along as support staff.
While the ride is exhausting, and participants rely on the kindness of strangers to provide them shelter and food, many of the cyclists are amateur bikers, Campbell said, with a wide range of ability — this year, their oldest biker was 80, and the youngest was 24.
For some, it was their first ride; others, like Enumclaw resident Mike Miller, aim to make it an annual tradition.
“At the end of a ride like that, someone says, ‘Oh, how was it? Was it good? Are you going to do it again?’ And my answer to them is, ‘How could I not?’” he said. “This country is an immigrant country, and this is just the next crew coming in… the stories that you hear, how people got here, is remarkable. When you hear their story, you can’t sit on the couch anymore. You have to go.”