Zein Ahmed’s humanitarian holiday

Posted on Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Zein Ahmed sourit devant des boîtes et des paquets.

Zein Ahmed in Djibouti a few days before taking hygiene products, clothing and children’s sandals to the Markazi refugee camp. 

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.

Un panneau en français est érigé à l’extérieur du camp de réfugiés – on y lit « Bienvenue au camp de Markazi ».

The Markazi camp in Djibouti houses about 2,800 refugees from Yemen and other countries.

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.

Quatre panélistes sont assis à l’avant d’une salle de classe lors de la discussion de groupe du 16 décembre 2016. Souriants, Johannes Van Der Klaauw et Zein Ahmed se tiennent côte à côte dans une salle de cours de l’Université d’Ottawa.

At right: Johannes Van Der Klaauw, UNHCR representative in Canada, with Zein Ahmed. He took part in the panel discussion at uOttawa in December that Ahmed organized to raise awareness and funds for Yemeni refugees in Djibouti.


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