Student reflects on journey

Last Thursday, Gemini award nominee and documentary journalist Debi Goodwin discussed her book Citizens of Nowhere, inspired by the time she spent in the Somali refugee camp of Dadaab in Kenya. Sentence about the students.

The book follows a year in the life of 11 students from the camp as they go from Kenyan sandstorms to snow drifts at university campuses across Canada.

“You arrive and you hope that it will be over in a month, a year,” said Mohamed Mursal, a Laurier student who came from the Dadaab camp with the help of an international scholarship.

The students, including Mursal, travel on scholarships from organizations such as the World University Service of Canada (WUSC).

WUSC’s mission is to supply students with financial support to cover tuition costs and living expenses while supplying them with a network of contacts and helping them integrate into their respective communities. Unfortunately most universities affiliated with WUSC struggle to secure adequate funding, meaning sponsored students can often only expect financial aid for their first year.

There are currently five WUSC sponsored students on campus at Laurier, all of whom are lucky enough to have been granted full financial support for all four years of their undergraduate degrees. They do not take this for granted.

For Mursal, his plan is like many others in his situation: to return home. It has been 19 years since Mursal and his family fled to the Dadaab refugee camp. In speaking about the camp, he said, “If you try to live day by day you will give up, you have to have hope to survive, you have to have a dream.”

Although Mursal’s dream has carried him across an ocean it did not come easily. “The color of the dream keeps changing, the distance of the horizon changes, but the dream is always there. The dream of going home.”

Scholarship programs like WUSC were not as popular in the camp when Mursal graduated high school in 2003 and because of his refugee status attending university in Kenya was impossible. Mursal wanted to help his family, he wanted to help his country and he knew to do this he needed the right tools. “An education is the best tool,” he said. “Though I can do a lot now, with more experience in a certain field I become a sharper knife. I think that is the dream of a lot of the students.”

Mursal finally left Dadaab three years later. He describes his transition to Canada as challenging enough that he was aware of the challenge but not so challenging that it feels impossible. He attributes the relatively smooth transition almost entirely to the help he was given by Laurier International and the WUSC community. In trying to express the gratitude he feels toward them he said he “cannot find the necessary adjectives to describe.”

Although he will always work to find his way back to his home in Somalia, Mursal expressed that he has found a second home here at Laurier. He cherishes this second home by giving back to his community in hopes that the ripples he makes here will reach others, perhaps even across oceans and inspire change. “Our actions are interpretations of our thoughts,” explained Mursal, “and hope guides our thoughts.”