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‘Welcome to Canada’: Donations pour in for Syrian boy to play hockey in St. John’s, N.L.

Hockey gear has been pouring in for Yaman Bai, a 10-year-old Syrian refugee in St. John's, N.L.
Hockey gear has been pouring in for Yaman Bai, a 10-year-old Syrian refugee in St. John's, N.L. Via Atlantic Boychoir (left) and Michael Doyle (right)

A 10-year-old Syrian boy is getting a true taste of what it means to be Canadian, after many generous donors responded to a viral tweet by sending him hockey equipment so he can play Canada’s national sport.

Yaman Bai, 10, arrived in Canada with his mother and three siblings last March, nearly three years after war forced them to leave Syria and seek asylum in Erbil, Iraq, the Telegram newspaper previously reported. Yaman’s father wasn’t able to join the rest of the family in Canada, but others have stepped up to help the boy settle into his new community in St. John’s, N.L.

One of those helpers has been Michael Doyle, a local hockey dad who gave Yaman some hand-me-down equipment so a neighbour could teach him how to skate. Doyle put out a call on Twitter for more hand-me-down gear last week, in hopes of getting some equipment for the boy to join his new classmates on the ice.

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Canadians have been flooding Doyle with offers ever since. Doyle says he’s now directing all donations to Sportscraft Source for Sports, a local equipment shop that that has vowed to provide all the necessary equipment with no markup on the cost.

Doyle told Global News he’s not interested in getting any attention for his actions. Instead, he just wants to see little Yaman hit the ice in a new set of hockey gear next Saturday.

Mark Crocker, who runs Sportscraft Source for Sports in St. John’s, says he jumped at the chance to help Doyle collect the hockey donations.

“It’s a good story,” Crocker told Global News. “It’s really a sin that any child, refugee or local child, might not be able to participate in hockey just because of a lack of funds. It’s an expensive sport to play.”

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Crocker says he’s received calls from Canada and the United States from people eager to donate to the cause.

“We provide the equipment at no charge,” he said. Crocker added that his staff have already outfitted Yaman with an excellent set of equipment that’s better than middle-of-the road, as far as hockey gear is concerned. They even gave him a hockey jacket so he could “look the part” when he strolls into the arena with his equipment over his shoulder.

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Yaman’s story has gone viral thanks to a Twitter thread by journalist Muhammad Lila, which has been shared tens of thousands of times around the world.

Yaman’s inspiring story involves “sports, refugees and what it means to be Canadian,” Lila wrote on Twitter.

Doyle has posted several photos of new hockey gear arriving outside his house.

He also received a virtual stick-tap from Hockey Canada on Twitter.

“Thank you for your generosity, Michael!” Hockey Canada tweeted. “What a beautiful display of the heart of hockey.”

Doyle answered by downplaying his own efforts. “The generosity of others really came into play,” he wrote. “People are awesome!”

Donations of hockey gear are shown outside a home in St. John’s, N.L.
Donations of hockey gear are shown outside a home in St. John’s, N.L. Michael Doyle/Twitter

The father of three isn’t the first to welcome Yaman to St. John’s. Another neighbour invited the boy to join the Atlantic Boychoir last fall, the St. John’s Telegram reports.

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Doyle says Yaman should have enough equipment to cover a few growth spurts. There’s also enough gear available to give at least one other child a shot at hockey, too.

Yaman Bai, 10, is shown at Crocker’s Source for Sports in St. John’s, N.L.
Yaman Bai, 10, is shown at Crocker’s Source for Sports in St. John’s, N.L. Muhammad Lila/Twitter

Many people shared their warm feelings about the story on Twitter, where they applauded the Newfoundland community that helped Yaman make his hockey dream come true.

“Can’t. Stop. Crying,” actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, adding the hashtag #HockeysForEveryone.

“I don’t know much about hockey,” tweeted one user from South Georgia. “However, I do know I love you, your country and this kid. Thank you.”

“This is Canada, a country I am proud to call home — a country where love above all else dictates how we live,” tweeted user William Stiles. Stiles finished the tweet with the message: “Welcome to Canada.”

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