After hearing how a young girl in Chase was bullied so much she had to be homeschooled, not one, but two groups of bikers from Alberta decided something had to be done.
Andrew Phillips is a group organizer for Bullying Enns, a motorcycle group based out of Edmonton started by Steve Enns to take a stand against bullying.
The group of bikers gather together whenever a call is put out for a child in need. In the past, the group has had anywhere from 10 to 80 bikers on one ride, and they head to the child’s school to pick them up at last bell. Soon, they'll be headed on their longest trip yet, to the Kamloops area.
Phillips explains the kids in the school get to see the bullied student being picked up by a collective group of ‘friends’ and driven off on a motorbike. From there they go on a 30-minute ride together before they drop the child off at home with a swag bag packed full of goodies.
“Usually they go to school the next day and everyone is asking them how she knows us, and she gets to say we are her friends,” Phillips told KamloopsMatters.
Recently, Phillips received a call about nine-year-old Haldane Elementary School student Samiya Noor, who was being relentlessly bullied.
“Her grandmother called us back in December looking for our help, and in the period of two weeks it escalated so much that she was pulled from school and homeschooled.”
Phillips says they have never done a ride this far before, but decided this was a case they needed to help with. He contacted Bikers Are Buddies — a similar group out of Calgary — and partnered to make their first ride out to Britsh Columbia.
Vicki Gustavson, Noor’s grandmother and guardian says at first she had no idea Noor was being bullied. She did, however, notice her once happy girl, was hiding in her bedroom more and more and not acting her normal self.
“She would fight with me every morning about getting up from bed and getting dressed and I thought she was just being lazy and didn’t want to go to school,” Gustavson says. “I know better now and feel terrible.”
“One day she came home and asked me what the word n***** meant and that’s when I started to realize there was a problem.”
The young girl had been called racial slurs for the past three months, Gustavson explains, only she didn’t realize what the word meant.
“She thought they were calling her something nice. She had never dealt with that before and didn’t understand,” Gustavson says. “I have never had a black child or grandchild before. I had no idea how to approach this or what to do to help her.”
It escalated from there.The nine-year-old began getting punched, kicked and spit on at school, Gustavson says. When the girls at her school began making fun of her eyebrows, Gustavson found her granddaughter in the bathroom with her eyebrows shaved off because she thought it would make them stop.
On one occasion Noor came home from school with a swollen face from being punched hard at recess.
Around this time an article about a young child around her granddaughter’s age who took their life as a result of bullying was posted on Facebook. This scared Gustavson enough to have a serious talk with her granddaughter.
“I reminded her how much we love her... and that we want to keep her safe,” Gustavson says. “We talked about the little boy and how he took his life and why. I explained to her how doing something like that is so permanent, there is no coming back. We told her how much she is loved and how badly she would be missed and asked her to promise to tell us she ever felt that way.”
It was then Noor told her grandmother how she had hidden a knife in her room as a result of her daily beatings, with the intention of using it on herself.
Gustavson was broken-hearted and extremely concerned, so shortly after, when her granddaughter came home with more wounds inflicted by her daily tormenters, she pulled her out of school, worried what might happen to her young child otherwise.
Rob Schoen, assistant superintendent for elementary schools in the Kamloops-Thompson School District, says that while he couldn't comment on this matter specifically – schools deal with families directly on bullying matters and are expected to investigate any serious concerns – he's confident schools have the programs in place to teach kids pro-social skills.
"Kids are going to make mistakes, kids are going to be unkind," he says. "We are going to correct them, we’re going to investigate and we’re going to support. Schools do that and Haldane does that. So I’m comfortable knowing that little people will continue to make mistakes moving forward but I’m also comfortable knowing schools are well positioned to support them and teach them to be responsible adults."
But Noor has recently returned to school after five months away and according to her grandmother, the bullying continues.
Phillips hopes the trip to Chase will help Noor see that she has friends all over who are looking out for her, noting they have no intentions on confronting her bullies or even meeting them.
"We are just there for Samiya and to show her our support," he says. "The focus is on her."
Phillips is working on forming a Kamloops chapter for the program, as they currently only exist in Alberta.
“I’m from Kamloops and I would like to see something like this happening here as well," he says.
Those who want to show their support for both the biker groups and Noor, can do so by meeting them at the red wharf at Memorial Park in Chase at 2 p.m. on May 10.
From there, they will ride over to pick up Noor from school when it ends a 2:30 p.m.
However, Haldane Elementary's principal Katrina Sewell sent out an email to parents this morning noting that they are aware of the rally and that students will not be allowed to participate unless they are accompanied by a parent.
"I would also like to assure you that we take bullying behaviour very seriously and follow up on all reports of unsafe behaviour. If you have concerns regarding your child and their experience at our school, I urge to speak directly with your child's classroom teacher, or myself," says the email from Sewell.
The school district is also hesitant to allow the bikers to pick up Noor on their property.
"How do you disagree with people that want to get behind anti-bullying? That’s a good thing," says Schoen. "But the idea of a motorcycle rally of however large with people that we don’t know on school grounds, that could be highly disruptive to the learning environment. We thank people that take forward the anti-bullying campaign and we thank them for their positive messaging, but that being said, we prefer to keep the school sacrosanct in terms of disruptions."
However, the bikers are permitted to pick up Noor in front of the school on public roads, so if you have a motorbike and would like to get join in on the ride, visit their event page for more information.
If you're a student experiencing bullying and you don't know where to turn, you can report your issues HERE.
And if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-784-2433.