September 18, 2013 - 8:38am

When Hamdi Aweys and Elizabeth Aduu began their studies at Vancouver Island University last week, they brought with them a strong desire to excel in difficult circumstances, a hope to quickly engage with their new Canadian home, and a quiet determination to build a brighter future.

Sponsored by VIU’s World University Service of Canada (WUSC) local committee, Aweys and Aduu are excited to continue the hard work and commitment to studies that have followed them through years of living in refugee camps in Africa.

“This was my only opportunity to pursue my studies,” says Aduu, who is from a small village in the South Sudan. As a young girl during civil war in her country, she went with her family across the border to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where she began to work towards her dream of furthering her education.

While she is currently registered in the Faculty of Health and Human Services, Aduu’s dream is to study geology. “I can be a geologist or a geological professional, or work in petroleum engineering. There will be a lot of opportunities when I study geology.”

Hamdi Aweys began her life in a nomadic town in Somalia, but during intertribal war and severe drought in the country she went with her family to Liboi refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. Taking all of her education in the camp, Aweys learned that she must apply herself and work towards a goal despite an environment offering sparse educational facilities.

“There wasn’t much technology in the camp – you had to study with lamps that had smoke,” she says. “You could not depend on getting books. You struggle and struggle and you might get one book. It was hard.”

Embarking on studies in the Faculty of Health and Human Services, Aweys hopes to pursue a career as a gynecologist.

Aweys and Aduu – the 7th and 8th students sponsored by VIU’s WUSC committee since it was established in 2008/09 -- learned about the opportunity for sponsorship to Canadian universities from teachers during their primary years. WUSC’s “Shine the Light” program, which aims to overcome the gender disparity in secondary school in refugee camps, clearly left an impression on both young women, who are advocates of encouraging education for girls in their home countries.

“A girl becoming number one is hard there,” says Aweys. “But girls can make it.”

Adjusting to their new life in Nanaimo will be a top priority, with volunteers from VIU’s WUSC committee, and former WUSC-sponsored students ready to lend a land in everything from navigating unfamiliar streets to getting used to new social protocols.

“The biggest challenge will be culture shock,” says Aduu. “And also accents.”

Both students anticipate getting involved with WUSC once they have settled into classes and the student residence at VIU which they now call home.

The first weeks of study at VIU will be exciting and vastly different from the young women’s experience as students in African refugee camps, where hunger, crowded conditions, and limited school supplies were challenges.

“You have to study even if you are hungry,” Aduu says. “Most people drop out because of that. It’s really hard to go through if you are not strong-hearted.”

VIU’s WUSC local committee, involving students, staff and faculty, makes a commitment that sponsored students’ food, shelter and clothing and other costs are covered adequately during their first year in Canada. Their tuition and additional costs are covered by funding from VIU’s International Education department, while an annual student levy of 72 cents per student helps provide further financial support. Committee volunteers hold several fundraising events throughout the year, including the annual Harambee Gala Dinner in the spring semester, to raise additional money to support student refugees.

Dominique Klees-Themens, a student service support worker for VIU’s WUSC local committee, encourages students, staff and community members to support WUSC students by making them feel welcome in the community, and offering any assistance they might need during their first few months in Canada.

As a Global Studies student, Klees-Themens got involved with the WUSC local committee through her interest in how young people access education in different regions of the world.

“I thought it was really inspiring that students could help other students in another part of the world to reach their dreams and their goals,” she says.

For information about the Student Refugee Program, and other WUSC initiatives visit



Shari Bishop Bowes, Communications Officer, Communications & Public Engagement, Vancouver Island University

P:250.740.6443 C: 250.618.1535 E: T: @viunews

Tags: In the Community

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