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African students raise funds build communities

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Kids walked up to three hours to get to the school that Weyni Abraha attended in Ethiopia, and some of those kids arrived hungry.

It’s the school in which her mother taught, before the family fled to Uganda as refugees.

Now the University of Winnipeg international development and conflict resolution student is going back, to give back.

Abraha will do her practicum in her former village, but she’s already raising money to ensure those students aren’t hungry once they get to school. She’s organized a fundraising event at Mona Lisa restaurant Jan. 22.

"It’s to start a garden at the school (where) I grew up, and my mother was a teacher... something that would be sustainable. The kids can learn to be responsible and share and care for the garden," Abraha said.

"They have knowledge; the only thing they don’t have is resources. They have a well right there. It will be the kids who are taking care of it."

Many of the African young people who’ve settled in Winnipeg are giving back to help people left behind.

She learned about social justice activism at Kelvin High School, said Abraha, who volunteers with younger kids at the downtown NEEDS Centre (Newcomers Education and Economic Development Services).

"I’ve raised money for bursaries and scholarships for students in Africa. I learned how to pay back to the community," Abraha said.

One of the younger people whom Abraha helps is Yvette, a Daniel McIntyre Collegiate student from Congo.

Yvette and friends raised hundreds of dollars at Daniel Mac in just a couple of weeks by asking people for their change.

"I told them we tried to raise money for East Africa after the drought," she explained. Her father sponsors a child there.

Yvette was all over the case of students upset at the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs. She told them, "There are people back home dying, and you don’t shed a tear for them, and you shed tears for this guy."

Abdisalan Mohamed Mahdi knows what it’s like to be alone and unable to speak the language, so now the College Sturgeon Heights student is there for newcomers.

He couldn’t speak English four years ago, said Mahdi: "No, I was zero."

He volunteers at the NEEDS Centre and raised money at Sturgeon Heights to put a roof on a school in Sudan.

"I started in the summer at the NEEDS Centre. There’s a lot of newcomers, kids that speak my language. We do a lot of activity together," said Mahdi.

"I’ll help them, be there when they need me."

The African students at College Louis-Riel are helping out kids in Africa.

One Saturday a month, "There’s a meeting. We try to get money so we help the kids in Africa," said Borel Fotsing Neche from Cameroon.

It’s called Sous le Baobab, named after a familiar African tree, Nelson Mituma explained. He’s from Cameroon, of Congolese and Burundian parents.

Said Borel: "They take a couple of children in Africa, they put them in studies in school for a year, so they learn a trade."

Florent Alimasi volunteers for a Congolese charity. "Last year, they sent money and books to a school," he said.

Ruth Mukuna from Congo said that the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine has a project called Ubuntu. "We do fundraising to support a group of widows and orphans in Rwanda, due to the genocide in '94," she said. Every two years, including this March, students will go to Rwanda to help build a school.

They take two suitcases, leaving one behind stuffed with clothes and school supplies, said vice-principal Carol Michalik.

Nelson’s mother is involved in a project with which he volunteers.

"They work with teenagers and young people who are still in Africa. They work with street children and try to find them a home, to find a way to discover their talent," said Nelson.

Said Borel: "People give money, and with the money, they give people mattresses and food."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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