VIU welcomes three new refugee students

Facing the camera and standing from left to right are refugee students Hanan Ali Abdi, Nyagua Deng Goch, and Daniella (Sifa) Mukenge

Refugee students (left to right) Hanan Ali Abdi, Nyagua Deng Goch, and Daniella (Sifa) Mukenge are now pursuing their degrees at VIU.

Photo: Vancouver Island University

September 14, 2022 - 11:15am

The students are pursuing their degrees here after arriving from refugee camps in Uganda.

Growing up in war-torn Somalia, Hanan Ali Abdi still remembers the moment her life changed forever and set her on a course to becoming a Vancouver Island University (VIU) student this year.

The moment happened amidst the regular deluge of violence, bombings, kidnappings and raids when an explosion rocked Abdi’s neighbourhood.

“It happened so fast,” she said. “I didn’t know where my mom or my sisters were. I just remember running and a lady holding my hand.”

Abdi fled her town with the lady and others, crossing the Somali border and ultimately arriving to a refugee camp in Uganda, where she was introduced to a family she could stay with. An avid reader, she taught herself English by reading novels, learned how to use phones and computers, and found work at an internet café and a supermarket.

She also connected with the Somali community in Uganda and met a friend who was applying to the World University Service of Canada (WUSC)’s Student Refugee Program (SRP). The non-profit organization matches refugees with partnering universities that offer the programs requested. VIU’s partnership with WUSC began in 2008 and about 30 students have since been sponsored. The student-facilitated program is funded through a student levy contributed by VIU’s Student Union and financial support from VIU’s Department of International Education, VIU’s Faculty Association and the wider community.

“VIU students who volunteer with WUSC are making a life-changing difference to refugee newcomers,” said Darrell Harvey, VIU’s Manager of Global Engagement. “They build a sense of community and family that helps our refugee students feel at home and become both successful VIU students and ultimately successful Canadian citizens.”

Abdi researched the program, applied and was accepted to VIU for September 2020. However, due to COVID-19 and some delays in the medical clearance process, her intake was delayed until September of this year.

Abdi, 23, is one of three refugee students starting their post-secondary careers at VIU this year. She is joined by Daniella (Sifa) Mukenge, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Nyagua Deng Goch, originally from South Sudan. All three were living in refugee camps prior to coming to VIU.

Mukenge, 21, fled with her parents and six siblings to Uganda when she was 14. Though her dad had worked as a civil engineer in Congo, her family’s new reality as refugees made it hard for him to find work in Uganda, and as a result, “he was having trouble keeping all of us in school.”

The family decided to keep Mukenge’s brothers in school while she and her sister would stay home. However, she had already attained good grades by this point and as a result she was sponsored by an organization in the refugee camp to finish her high school diploma.

Feeling a further pull to university, she applied for “anything and everything” she could. Through this process, she learned about WUSC, successfully completed her application and was accepted to VIU.

“I love it here,” she said. “I get to study again and meet people and friends. The local community has been very helpful and I don’t feel lonely.”

Goch, 22, fled South Sudan after her home was destroyed as a result of the fighting in her country. She went to Uganda with her aunt after being separated from her parents. There, she finished high school and heard about WUSC through a friend who had been accepted into the program.

As for their post-secondary and career plans, Abdi is pursuing business and would like to become an entrepreneur. Mukenge is interested in pursuing her major in Global Studies and Goch wants to become an accountant.

"Nanaimo feels like a peaceful place and I am so excited to develop my education and business skills at VIU,” said Goch.

All three students have also managed to reconnect with their families and now keep in regular contact with them.

“If I study well and start working a good job, maybe I can make my mom proud,” said Abdi.



Eric Zimmer, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.618.7296 | E: | T: @VIUNews

Tags: International Education | Teaching and Learning

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