By Shari Bishop Bowes
Travelling from a massive refugee camp in Kenya to study at Vancouver Island University signifies a significant step in a long journey of education and daily struggle for two young men.
Aden Mumin and Abdullahi Mohamud are settling into their studies at VIU and life in Nanaimo as students sponsored by VIU’s World University Service of Canada (WUSC) local committee. As the ninth and tenth students sponsored by the committee since it was established in 2008-09, Mumin and Mohamud have risen above the difficulties faced by refugees living in Dadaab’s refugee camps, home to nearly a half million people who have fled war, famine, persecution and hunger in neighbouring countries like Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan.
“In the refugee camps, life is very hard,” says Mumin. “Education is very limited, to go on to high school for example, 2,000 students will write exams to qualify, but only 500 are selected.”
Students who do make it to high school face obstacles, including hunger that makes it difficult to concentrate on studies, a lack of books, supplies and learning facilities, and no light for evening study.
Mumin arrived at Dadaab from Somalia in 1998 as a child, along with seven siblings and his parents, while Mohamud arrived in the refugee camp a year later from Ethiopia, also with a family that includes seven brothers and sisters.
The two students are unlikely to complain about a 10-minute walk between classes in the rain at VIU. At Dadaab, they would rise at dawn to run 50 minutes one way to their school, make the trip home for the midday meal, and then make the final trip home at the end of the day.
“That is three hours of traveling on foot and the temperatures are very high,” Mohamud said.
Neither of the young men dwell on the difficult experiences they endured to earn top marks while completing high school and a successful application to the WUSC program. Instead, their eyes brighten and smiles widen as they talk about an opportunity to study at university in Canada, and pursue their dreams – for Mumin, a future career in medicine or engineering; for Mohamud, a future as an engineer or possibly in accounting.
In the longterm, they seek to offer what help they can to the people who remain in Dadaab and other refugee camps.
“We think back to those who never got the chance of learning here, and maybe they can be encouraged,” says Mohamud.” You have to think, what can I do for others in the community who are suffering?”
WUSC local committee co-chair Drissa Bouare, who has been supporting the two young men in their transition to student life at VIU, is hoping the community is inspired by their story, and will provide more help to cover costs that are difficult to meet for the small university group.
“We are getting a lot of support from the community, but we feel the community can do even more,” he says, adding that offers of accommodation from Nanaimo families, and assistance with food and other student expenses are the kind of support that will make a difference.
For information about the Student Refugee Program, and other WUSC initiatives, please visit wusc.ca.