Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bringing hope to the hopeless

Former Somali refugees in city help others still in camps

  • Print

Photo by D. Mwancha

Ahmed Warsame in white shirt - UNHCR Head of Operations inaugurating the launching of Humankind Academy in Dagahaley camp on Jan. 16, 2013

A WINNIPEG man who runs the largest refugee camp in the world says former refugees from his hometown are making a huge difference in what seems to many to be a hopeless place.

In January, the Humankind Academy opened the first preschool in Dadaab — a massive collection of refugee camps that shelters nearly half a million people in Kenya.

"It’s a symbol of hope now," said Ahmed Warsame, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ operations manager in Dadaab.

"Clearly it has provided an opportunity for young children who’d otherwise be sitting at home and not have the opportunity of learning," Warsame, who returns to his Winnipeg home in Richmond West twice a year, said by phone from Dadaab.

The early childhood education centre was opened by Humankind International — a non-profit organization established by Somali Winnipeggers and their Canadian-born friends.

It has 140 kids from the camp and the host community enrolled, with 70 in the morning and 70 in the afternoon, and would take thousands more if it could, said Muuxi Adam, co-founder of Humankind International.

"Over 400 were lined up to register," said Adam, who was in Dadaab in January for the preschool’s opening.

"It was almost heartbreaking — it was really hard to turn kids down," said the father of two preschoolers. The after-school program manager at the Immigrant and Refugee Organization of Manitoba is a Somali refugee who arrived in Winnipeg as a teenager.

"When you have no status, your existence is questionable to everybody. That’s the feeling of being a refugee — you’re in limbo and nobody deserves that life. Kids deserve to be kids."

In 2008, the Free Press wrote about his wedding presentation gifts being stolen, the outpouring of support from the community and how he and his wife wanted to channel the experience into something good.

Adam and fellow Somali Winnipeggers and friends went on to establish Humankind International, a non-profit organization to help children. Adam went to Dadaab in 2010 to see what kids there needed and how to help.

"When I was there I saw an acute need of young people willing to learn and looking for any opportunity," said Adam. The University of Winnipeg graduate said the lifelong benefits of teaching the very young have been well-documented.

"Early childhood education will better their life now and in the long term," and there was nothing for preschoolers in Dadaab.

Adam went to work on fundraising for a preschool and today it’s up and running with the support of Humankind International and the backing of the head of the camp and fellow Winnipegger, Warsame.

"The amount of money spent may be seen as a small amount, but in fact the impact is huge in many ways," Warsame said. Including children from the host community at the preschool and creating jobs for locals who don’t receive any aid and are often poorer than the refugees is reducing some of the tension between the neighbours, he said. Knowing you haven’t been forgotten boosts your spirit, said Warsame.

"Former refugees giving back to their community creates a very powerful feeling among refugees and host communities," said Warsame. "Former refugees who were once in those camps and who are now Canadian citizens have not really forgotten the people they left 20 years ago," said Warsame, who moved to Winnipeg in 1997. He fled Somalia where he was working as a consultant for the UN when civil war broke out.

"I was not able to go back," said Warsame. "I opted to go to Winnipeg with minimum knowledge of Winnipeg," he laughed. He arrived here with government aid, applied for permanent residency and made Winnipeg his home base as he continued to work for the UN as a foreign service officer.

"I have helped refugees from all over the world — in Peshawar, and Southern Sudan, in Uganda, Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan — and many, various war-torn places," said Warsame. "It’s challenging and sometimes security is a major factor in our day-to-day work."

Warsame says he can identify with the refugees he helps. "I think in many ways I was affected by the civil war," said the Somali-born Winnipegger. "I share the feeling and the pain of many refugees and displaced people," he said. "I’m hopeful in some places I see people going back home," he said. Sometimes those hopes are dashed.

"I was charged with repatriation of the South Sudanese and very proud to be part of that process. Unfortunately, South Sudan is again having a major humanitarian crisis and civil conflict."

In Pakistan, Warsame was spearheading major repatriation of Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan.

"In some places, you can see a light at the end of the tunnel."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 4, 2014 B5

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jim Flaherty remembered at visitation as irreplaceable

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • May 22, 2012 - 120522  - Westminster United Church photographed Tuesday May 22, 2012 .  John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press
  • An American White Pelican takes flight from the banks of the Red River in Lockport, MB. A group of pelicans is referred to as a ‘pod’ and the American White Pelican is the only pelican species to have a horn on its bill. May 16, 2012. SARAH O. SWENSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google