A toonie to change a life
Just a few years ago, Memorial University physics student Husam Basemah was dodging rockets in Syria.
Basemah was on his way to a group study session when it happened.
“There was a rocket that hit the street that I was walking in, and exploded. I was going to make a right turn — and once I make that turn, I’m in that street that was hit by the rocket. If I was less than 10 seconds earlier, I would have been there where the rocket hit, and I would have been one of the people who died.”
The 21-year-old recalls many days during high school when there were threats of rockets.
“Some people stopped going to school," he said.
“Some people kept going because they believed that we can do something.
“You would be surprised if you see the number of students showing up to class the day there was a threat of sending rockets to that area. Most of the class was there because they know that there is a crisis, but you can’t solve it if the next generation is not educated.”
That’s why Basemah is so passionate about World University Service of Canada’s (WUSC) student refugee program.
The program, with a youth-to-youth sponsorship model, brings more than 130 refugee students per year to a Canadian university to study.
Basemah is co-chair of the local WUSC committee at Memorial University, where the group aims to implement the first student refugee program in St. John’s, joining over 90 universities across Canada that are part of the initiative.
They hope to fund the program with a $2 levy per undergraduate student per semester, enabling them to sponsor one refugee student per year to study at Memorial University.
Students will vote to either approve or deny the levy in a referendum on Nov. 5 and 6, the same day as the Memorial University Student Union byelection.
Community health graduate student Nabila Qureshi is the other co-chair of the committee.
“Somewhere out there, there’s an individual living in a dangerous situation,” she said.
“They really want to try and improve their life, and they understand that education is the way for them to do that. Now they’re seeking a way to come to Canada so they can better their life in a safe and supportive environment. We have the opportunity to provide that environment to them. All it comes down to is just a vote, and the price of a cup of coffee.”
Basemah said the program gives Memorial students a chance to not only show that they care about the refugee crisis, but to take action.
“If refugees aren’t getting the good education that we are getting, how are we expecting the problem to be solved in the future? So, our message is to make a difference one action at a time.”
Basemah said he plans to use his education to help Syria. His goal is to one day help to build schools in the country, and improve education for young people there, such as his three younger sisters who are still in the country with his parents.
“I know what these refugee students are going through, and I know how it feels to know that you can do something, but you just need the education." — Husam Basemah
Basemah came to Canada on a scholarship from the Institute of International Education.
It was his study group — the one he was walking to that day when the rocket hit — that helped him to get the scholarship. His four study group friends also applied for scholarships, but didn’t get them. They are still in Syria.
“I know what these refugee students are going through, and I know how it feels to know that you can do something, but you just need the education," he said.
“I know that the costs of studying in Canada are expensive, even to students who are already in Canada, but if you go there, the wages in that area of the world are way lower. For example, I work here two days a week — a part-time job — and I make more than my father, who is a mechanical engineer.
“So, it was impossible for me to come study here with the full costs of it. So, I knew my only chance was applying for scholarships.”
Basemah said he knows the impact this program could have on young people if students vote in favour of the levy.
“This will change someone’s life every year.”