Toronto woman creates online network to help those vulnerable when travelling alone
Dario Balca, CTV Toronto
Published Monday, November 23, 2015 10:49PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 25, 2015 8:38PM EST
A Toronto woman is using social media to provide travelling companions for people who feel vulnerable when making their way through the city alone.
On Thursday, Mita Hans and her friend Kanwar Saini set up BuddyupTO, a Facebook page aimed at connecting people who feel targeted on the streets with others who are willing to accompany them to their destinations.
“Whenever something happens in the world that involves folks of colour, or folks who adorn specific wears (niqab, hijab, turbans) or abide by a lifestyle or culture, there is a ripple in global socialization where similarly profiled people are targeted erroneously by hate crimes, hate speech, ambiguous stares, and bullying of all sorts,” the Facebook page said.
“This group attempts to destroy the isolation by allowing people to pair up or forge groups to run errands, do civic activities, and attend social functions, such that they don't feel at risk.”
The group works mainly by connecting people who have common destinations or travel routes. Some members, Hans said, simply make themselves available to whoever needs accompaniment.
“That generosity and spirit is kind of overwhelming,” she said.
Hans said she was inspired to start the group after learning of two separate attacks on Muslim women in Toronto last week.
On Nov. 17, a 30-year-old Muslim woman was left crying and shaking after a violent assault outside of a Toronto’s Grenoble elementary school in what police are calling a hate crime. Two days later, two women wearing hijabs were verbally harassed on a Toronto subway train.
After witnessing an outpouring of support for these women and other people in similar situations, Hans said she realized this spirit of caring could be organized into something that could make a tangible difference.
“I thought this needs to be a group thing where these people can find each other,” she said. “There are a lot of people in the city feeling this inability to move, to function, to go about their day-to-day lives because this exists.”
Anyone can request to become part of the Facebook group. Hans and Saini then screen the people before allowing them to become members of BuddyUpTO
“It isn’t just Muslim women,” she said. “People feel unsafe travelling for a multitude of reasons. Queer and trans people have been dealing with this for a long time. Missing and murdered indigenous women -- if they had an app like this, perhaps this can make a difference in the level of violence.”
So far, Hans says the response to the group has been overwhelming.
“I thought with my group of friends I would end up with 40 random people who would do this, (but) within the first 15 minutes, I ended up with 50,” she said.
As of Monday evening, the group had more than 970 members.
And the idea behind BuddyUpTO is spreading quickly.
Hans said people from Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Humber College and the University of Toronto have already contacted her with an interest in starting similar groups.
“I’ve got all of these people on board sort of sitting waiting to see where this goes and how we can link up all those cause,” she said.
Hans said a Toronto-based web developer has volunteered to help create a mobile app for BuddyUpTO and marketing people have come forward to make the app as widely accessible as possible.