Gala dinner supports student refugees at VIU

April 20, 2011 - 2:28am

In East Africa, harambee is a rallying cry that translates as “all pull together.”

At Vancouver Island University, it has also come to mean the annual gala dinner held to fundraise for refugee students.

In the first two years of the Student Refugee Program at VIU, the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) Local Committee has sponsored one student from Somalia and another from Sudan.

The program is expanding next year thanks to a student levy approved last spring and ongoing support from the university. Katie Durvin and Celia White, members of VIU’s WUSC executive, expect two refugee students will be sponsored next fall.

“Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to confirm where the new students are coming from,” says Durvin.

Political turmoil, violence and persecution in regions of Malawi, Syria, Somalia and other parts of the Mid-East and Africa have forced hundreds of thousands to flee for safety.

Refugee camps in Kenya have provided safe haven for many and the opportunity to start a new life in Canada is highly prized. White said WUSC works with Citizenship and Immigration Canada and international partners to select suitable candidates and attempt to match them with the most compatible campuses across Canada.

“WUSC’s Student Refugee Program is the only option available for students in refugee camps in Kenya and Malawi, looking to pursue post-secondary education,” says Durvin. “It is a unique program tying education with citizenship, which is important, as refugees lose their legal citizenship with their home countries when they flee due to severe persecution, discrimination and violence.”

This year’s Harambee Gala Dinner will be held 6 pm, Saturday, April 30 at the Costin Hall, 7232 Lantzville Road in Lantzville. The Cowichan Valley-based Masimba marimba band will entertain. There will be a four-course dinner prepared by chef Kevin Connaghan of the Longwood Brew Pub.

There will also be a silent auction, sales of fair-trade products and a speech by Aden Ahmed, who began studies at VIU’s Nanaimo campus last fall thanks to support from WUSC and the university.

Tickets are $55 for community members, $40 for students, and are almost fully tax deductible. Special table rates are $475 for 10 people and $380 for eight.

The committee welcomes donations for the silent auction and supporters can also pay for tickets that are provided to students who might not be able to afford the event.

For tickets, sponsorship or information about the Student Refugee Program, call 250-758-4746 or email


Tags: In the Community

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