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Officer helps create a free school in Somalia
EMC Ottawa South
Thursday, March 29, 2012
A new 300 student school in Somalia should be opening this coming August thanks to the efforts of a Somalian-born Ottawa police officer, his colleagues and friends.
Mahamud Elmi knows the value of education from his own life experience and that's why he founded the Somali Hope Academy project.
Born in Somalia, Elmi lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for three years before coming to Canada in 1996, speaking no English.
He graduated from Ridgemont High School and then from St. Lawrence College, joining the Ottawa Police Service in 2003. He is currently completing an undergraduate degree in sociology at Carleton University.
He told members of the Rotary Club of Ottawa - Stittsville at the Club's meeting on March 13 that education changed his life and education is also a way of making a difference in Somalia.
"That's one way you can actually touch people," he said.
His Somali Hope Academy project began after he returned to Somalia for a visit with his family in 2008.
He said he noticed there were many children not in school because their families could not afford the cost, most families in Somalia are large, with at least six children, making it difficult for a family to afford schooling. In addition, 20 years of civil war in Somalia destroyed much of the education system.
When he returned from his visit and told colleagues and friends what he had seen, they all wanted to do something about the situation.
"This is how Somali Hope Academy was born," Elmi said.
With fundraising softball and basketball tournaments and a gala, $63,000 was raised, all of which has gone to purchase a school site and build a 10-classroom school with a library, office area, running water and electricity. All that remains now is to finish the interior, which will cost $30,000, school uniforms, desks and seating and the provision of the initial two months' salary for five teachers and a headmaster, another $10,000 expenditure in total.
Elmi, who will be returning to Somalia for another visit in July, is hoping that the school will be ready for the beginning of August when the school year begins in Somalia.
He said that the school will offer an English curriculum because he believes that knowing and speaking English will help the children get jobs in Somalia later in life.
In addition, if a student from Somalia wants to continue with his or her education, it means going to Kenya or Uganda where it is easier to adapt if fluent in English.
Elmi is hopeful that the Somali Hope Academy will become a model that can be adopted for other villages in Somalia.
He readily admits that all of the opportunities he has received in Canada has motivated him to do something for his homeland.
"I have to give back. I must give back," he told the Rotary Club members.
"This school is going to be a permanent ambassador from Canada to Somalia."
The new Somali Hope Academy will be free to all children as long as they live in the area of the village. Priority for admission will be given to orphans and those from families who have nothing.
Elmi himself is currently in the process of collecting books for the school library. The plan is to begin the school with five teachers and a headmaster, with each teacher hopefully being paid through a corporate sponsorship arranged by Elmi. In addition, there are organizations that help with operating costs and the Somali government does subsidize teachers to some extent.
Elmi is committed to holding two big fundraising events a year, like a fundraising gala such as the previous one which raised $11,000 and a basketball tournament which can raise about $6,000. He is also working on a possible partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency.
Elmi is currently a school resource officer with the Ottawa Police Service, assigned to the force's urban priorities pilot project. He is co-founder of the Somali youth basketball league and is a recipient of Crime Prevention Ottawa's Community Safety Award.
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