Korean fundraiser seeks to reunite Somali refugee family

Events Local News

Dinner will raise money to privately sponsor four refugees

Graphic by Nat Inez, Design Director

An upcoming local fundraiser is helping Marwo Abdi, a Somali woman living in Victoria, reunite with four of her family members.

When Abdi was six years old, her family had to flee their home in Somalia because of the civil war. She was separated from her family, and her father was killed in the war. After 18 years of living in the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Uganda, Abdi came to Canada in 2008 to attend UVic on a World University Service of Canada (WUSC) refugee scholarship.

Eleven years later, she’s hoping to bring her mother, brother, and two cousins to Canada from the Ugandan refugee camp.

In order to privately sponsor her family members, Abdi needs to raise $55 000. So far, along with the Kalmo Refugee Support Group, she has raised $40 000 since September 2017.

A Korean dinner in support of this fundraiser will take place on Sunday, May 19 from 5 to 8 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Hall. The dinner hopes to bring people together around this cause, while also celebrating Korean culture through food, music, and handicrafts. Refugees, Abdi said in an email interview with the Martlet, want “a place to call home, to live, study, and work safely … if they could have the choice, they would live in their home country peacefully.”

She quoted a poem called “Home” by a Somali-born British writer, Warsan Shire in saying, “No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

Although the WUSC local committee was supportive, Abdi still found the adjustment to Canada challenging and missed the support of her family. Abdi still admits to feeling isolated without her whole family.

“Here I have some of the basic rights that I was denied living in Dadaab … but I felt and still feel so isolated,” she said. “I can still feel the memory of the camp every day, because my mom still lives in a refugee camp.”

Abdi sponsored her husband to join her in Victoria and they now have three children, none of whom have met their relatives that live in the Ugandan refugee camp. Her family has been refugees for about 27 years, and they’ve lived in Uganda for the last 12 years with “no access to safety, health care, educational [opportunities], and even food.” Abdi says her family depends on the money she sends them to meet these basic needs.

In order to get Abdi’s family members to Canada, the Kalmo refugee support group has to raise funds quickly so the processing for the family’s approval to enter Canada, which can sometimes take up to five years, can start as soon as possible.

Korean community member Jaerang Lee is helping to organize the event, and recognizes the importance of reconnecting Abdi with her family through Korean food and culture.

“It feels important to come together and share our [Korean] culture as a way of supporting [Abdi] to reunite with her family,” said Lee.

In addition to the upcoming fundraising dinner, the group also has a garage sale planned for June. Their work will continue when the family reunites in Canada, as Kalmo hopes to act as a support system for the family during this big transition.

The upcoming dinner is Korean, even though the refugees are from Somalia. The event organizers explained that this is because “the event is organized by Korean community members and allies, many of them have never met [Abdi].”

“However,” Lee adds, “we all understand very well every human being deserves to live with their beloved ones…[Abdi’s] story is not any more someone else’s story that we could walk away from, but our story in that we would like to be part of it. We all have crossed a border, even multiple borders for some of us, to come to Canada. We would like to see Canada as a place where everyone lives with their beloved ones.”

The Kalmo Refugee Support group encourages UVic students interested in helping out to contact them via their website, and donate to the cause if they are able to. More information about the upcoming Korean Fundraiser event can be found on their Facebook event page.