cycling cleric journeys 470km in support of organ donations
It was a battle against food poisoning, fierce winds, steep hills and swarms of black flies, but Mohamad Jebara has successfully completed his 470-kilometre trek to Toronto.
On May 27, the 34-year-old imam who calls himself the Cycling Cleric, set out on a 10-day cycling trip from Ottawa to Toronto to raise awareness of the need for organ donations in Ontario. Although the trip did not go as planned, Jebara reached his final destination June 4.
“I had some issues,” said Jebara, who laughs as he tells me how he got food poisoning his first night on the road. “Not only did they [the restaurant] give me bad service, but their food made me sick.”
It was his second cycling trip in support of a Canadian health issue. Last year, Jebara made history as the first-ever Islamic cleric to cycle and roller skate for a cause when he trekked from Ottawa to Quebec City in support of The Heart and Stroke Foundation. On both trips he stopped in various towns to speak with Canadians about his initiative.
“The important thing for me is that the word is out there and that you educate people,” explained Jebara. “That’s my main goal: to educate.”
In a province like Ontario where the number of needed organs outweighs the number available, education is key. According to the Trillium Gift of Life Network, the not-for-profit government agency that oversees organ donations in the province, there are more than 1,500 people currently awaiting a transplant. And although 85 per cent of Ontarians are in favour of donations, less than 25 per cent of eligible people have actually registered to donate.
“It’s really hard to get people to register to become organ donors,” said Jebara, whose initial goal was to secure 500 new registrants during his trip.
He was able to get 370.
“Most people are very reactive; they’ll wait until it touches them personally or until they are a recipient or something before they become advocates.”
Although Jebara didn’t reach his main goal, he says his trip was nevertheless a success as he was given the opportunity to speak to many Muslim communities about the importance of organ transplants and the significance of saving a life. With many religious communities- including Muslims- citing religion as a reason not to become donors, Jebara said the support he received symbolized “a breakthrough.”
“Many people came up to me after and said, ‘you know, it was very convincing, it was right to the point,’” he explained. “They understood it and they support it now.”
Although Jebara has returned to Ottawa, there is a chance we may see the Cycling Cleric again soon as he is planning a third cycling initiative.
The cause has yet to be finalized.
“Cycling Cleric 2015 was a triumph for life and the salvation of life, through advocacy for donors,” Jebara wrote on his blog June 5. “There is still much more work to be done. I consider my work a small contribution upon which others can build.”
To learn more about the Cycling Cleric, you can follow his journey on Facebook and Twitter. To donate to his cause, you can visit his website at www.cyclingcleric.ca. To register as an organ donor, click here.