Building bridges between Kenya and Canada

Abdikadir Ali spent a year waiting before he received the good news: he was to leave Kenya to take up residence at UTM.

Nearly two years ago, Ali gave his mother and siblings a goodbye hug and left the refugee camp.

“My family was very happy when I got accepted. My mother helped me study. She knew that if I got an education it would change my life and theirs,” Ali says. “And it did change my life.”

Ali was born in Somalia, the oldest of five children. After losing his father to the war at the age of nine, he fled with his family to Kenya and settled in a camp with 200,000 other refugees. Under the guidance of his mother and with encouraging words from a representative of a local non-governmental organization, Ali prepared to apply for the student refugee program with the World University Service of Canada. The representative told Ali’s class that they could go to a good university if they did well in school.

The WUSC program provides guidance for local committees to sponsor a student refugee. At UTM, students pay a $1 levy through tuition fees to support one new student each year for the first 12 months of their studies. If the levy were increased, UTM could sponsor another student.

“The program is life-changing,” Ali said. I don’t know what to compare it with in the world. Students in this university are changing lives and they don’t realize it. It brings a whole life here, like me.”

Despite the few resources available to him, Ali passed and excelled at every test. He received his high school diploma with high academic achievement, completed an intensive English exam, and impressed admissions representatives at various interviews.

Ali, now in his second year at UTM, pursues a specialist degree in accounting. In addition to a full course load, Ali works on campus at the International Student Centre and Walk Safe. He sleeps only about five hours a night to stay on top of his commitments. Not only does Ali work to support himself, he also sends money home to his family.

“I like challenges. From where I have started to where I am now is a big accomplishment for me. Whatever you think you can’t do, there is a possibility. I’m sure there is a possibility.”

Ali is still adjusting to life in Canada and adapting to new cultural norms. He comments on the luxuries he’s grown accustomed to at UTM—Mac computers, a campus-wide high-speed Internet connection, and library access—but he still holds tightly to the values he grew up with as a child. Ali was raised in a developing world with a strong sense of community and generosity.

“In Canada, you have to make an appointment for everything, even just to talk to your friend—you have to text them,” Ali says. “We have to change that. We have to be open to people. If someone needs a place to sleep, they can come. In Kenya and Somalia, we’ll give them a room, food, everything that the person needs, for a night or two. There’s no sense of worrying about the person doing something bad. If something happens, everyone will come and help you.”

The WUSC program not only offers opportunities to student refugees, it also diversifies university campuses and introduces students to different perspectives. By opening local communities to individuals with international experience, university learning takes on a whole new dynamic. With his welcoming demeanour and ambitious attitude, Ali offers a life story a world away from what the UTM community is used to.

“Some people don’t know what a refugee is, or what WUSC is,” he says. “Talk to me and I’ll tell you about it. It’s better than reading a textbook. We need to share ideas and hear stories. You can learn from people.”

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