By Brandon Gillet
University of Ottawa student Zein Ahmed is back at school after delivering more than $10,000 worth of supplies to Yemeni refugees sheltering in Djibouti. The fourth-year student, who was born in Ottawa of Yemeni-Djibouti descent, surpassed the goal of $8,000 she set for herself when she launched her fundraising campaign in October.
To raise awareness and cap off her fundraising, Ahmed organized a panel discussion on campus in partnership with Capital Welcomes. The well-attended event featured the UNHCR representative in Canada and other experts in the field, and raised $1,000 toward her goal.
After arriving in Djibouti on December 27, Ahmed began buying the clothing and hygiene products that she would deliver by truck and cargo boat to the Markazi refugee camp near the town of Obock. She coordinated her trip with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, while family members in Djibouti assisted with the buying trips.
“We were purchasing such large quantities, we needed a whole week just to buy it all,” Ahmed said. “And the boat goes from the capital to Obock only twice a week, so we had to plan carefully.”
Djibouti’s national refugee agency, the Office National d'Assistance Aux Réfugiés et Sinistrés, also provided essential support, including a truck to transport the goods.
The camp looked much as she had imagined – rows of tents in an extremely dry, barren landscape. “It made me realize how much they suffer there in summer when it gets up to 50 degrees,” she said.
She hired some of the camp’s refugees to help unload the goods, which included school supplies she had brought from Canada. Given that most of the children at the camp didn’t have shoes, she also delivered 140 pairs of sandals.
Ahmed was surprised at the children’s high spirits, considering the hardship they were enduring. “They didn’t show an ounce of sadness,” she said. “I can’t imagine what they dream of – or if they even think there is a future for them.”
Ahmed plans to continue her efforts on behalf of Yemeni refugees until the conflict in their homeland is over. Ultimately, she hopes to pursue her interest in humanitarian work – and put her biomedical science studies to good use – by working for the World Health Organization.