When Kassim Ibrahim thinks of North America, he thinks of a land of freedom and vast opportunity.  

Kassim grew up in Kenya in a refugee camp. In the camp, Kassim cooked for his family and taught mathematics to other students. Education is highly valued in his community, but opportunities were scarce. With the goal to create more educational, economic, and empowerment opportunities, the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) program works in over 15 countries helping young people, and particularly young refugees, pursue higher education 

Together with WUSC, the University of Waterloo and Conrad Grebel University College welcome Kassim to Canada through the Student Refugee Program (SRP). “Everyone in my refugee camp looks for this opportunity. The opportunity of coming to Canada through education,” said Kassim. “I just prayed I could be a part of it.” 

Each semester, the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) charges an optional fee of $5.18 to students to support the SRP. For Grebelites, this fee is an additional $20 to ensure a refugee student can live at Grebel and be an active and integral part of the community. The SRP provides sponsored students with support to thrive academically, spiritually, and personally through student life at UWaterloo and Grebel. “Sponsored students develop lifelong friends, enhance their leadership skills, engage in active citizenship, and work hard to prepare for their future with education, training, and work experience,” noted Beverley Fretz, Director of Student Services at Grebel. “SRP sponsored students bring insightful perspectives to the community, enriching student life with their lived experience and knowledge.”   

“Coming here through WUSC provided a supportive community. They have transformed my life,” said Kassim. “You can imagine after being born in a refugee camp and living there for 20 years, I never had hope of living out of the camp. There are so many challenges.” When he arrived in Canada in August, Grebel Student Services picked Kassim up from the airport. When they arrived at Grebel, Kassim asked how long the electricity would be on. “In the camp, you don’t have freedom like you could have in Canada. When someone brings you from that to a lifestyle like this, it is like a light at the end of the tunnel,” shared Kassim.  

Now, Kassim is a first-year student at UWaterloo, and a current resident at Grebel. He is the first in his family to have reached this level of education. “My parents see their dreams through me,” Kassim said. 

Kassim understands that university is not always easy and can be overwhelming. However, peers and Student Services at Grebel make Kassim feel safe to express any hardship, offering him unconditional support and reassurance. “Every person I have been in contact with has been helpful in some way or another, down to the kitchen staff who accommodated my dietary restrictions. The supportive environment here is very strong, I feel integrated.” 

As he settles into life in Canada, Kassim’s studies remain his top priority. “You don’t only learn for yourself. You learn for everyone, including your parents and family,” he said. “Once you learn, you become successful. You become free from ignorance and exploitation. I feel like learning redeems me from my refugee status as I am equipped with education to support me.”

By Farah Jurdi