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Shining A Light On A Crisis

Posted by Matt Semansky on February 5, 2016 in Students, News

Informatics and IDS student Amina Abawajy. (Nick Pearce photo)

Informatics and IDS student Amina Abawajy. (Nick Pearce photo)

Originally posted on Dal News.

For the final year of a degree that combines Informatics and International Development Studies, Amina Abawajy decided she’d get more involved in the Dal community. In doing so, she’s made an impact on communities halfway around the world.

Last fall, Amina discovered that a food crisis in Ethiopia, where both of her parents were born, had left 4.5 million people in need of emergency relief – a number that was projected to rise to 15 million within a few months.

As alarmed as she was to learn of the crisis, Amina was equally discouraged to realize that the story had been largely ignored and under-reported. She was inspired to raise both funds for the victims of famine and awareness of their plight within the Halifax community where she was born and raised.

“Even if it’s just in the local community, I wanted to bring light to the issue,” Amina says.

Her efforts began in October with the launch of a GoFundMe campaign, dubbed Not 15 Million, which has brought in more than $3,000 to date and earned coverage from local media outlets.

“It’s our online presence,” says Amina of the GoFundMe campaign. “It’s an easy method for people to donate. But it’s just one part of the initiative.”

Surpassing her goal

In fact, while the online campaign has helped to extend the reach of the fundraising drive, Amina has arguably created even more awareness — and has certainly generated more donations — through hands-on activities such as bake sales, traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremonies and a major fundraising dinner hosted at Dal in January.

The dinner, which featured authentic Ethiopian cuisine, was moved from its scheduled date due to a winter storm. This last-minute change convinced Amina that it might not be realistic to meet her goal of 200 attendees. She was happily surprised.

“The event was mind-blowing,” she says. “We had over 400 people. We had to bring extra tables. It was an incredible turnout.”

All told, Amina’s fundraising activities have resulted in more than $26,000 in donations, well above her initial goal of $15,000. Those who came to the January dinner event got a glimpse of how the money is being put to use, with footage chronicling the first food delivery associated with the campaign. To Amina, effective aid means partnering with both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community leaders from the affected areas of Ethiopia.

“We believe that we need to respect the leadership, expertise and knowledge of the people in the affected communities. That was central to this project,” Amina explains.

“With the NGOs we’re determining gaps in services and what they’ve been able to do. With the community elders we’re determining what the needs are for that community. We’re hoping to make an impact that’s culturally relevant and culturally appropriate.”

The first food delivery addressed malnutrition in children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. It consisted of milk, dates and nutritional biscuits made in Ethiopia. “That’s going back to the idea of supporting the local communities,” Amina says.

“We were very excited to showcase that delivery at the fundraising dinner and show people where their money’s going and the impact it has.”

Building a respectful culture

Leaning on the knowledge and ideas of the people affected by the famine is just one example of Amina’s dedication to the principles of respect, inclusion and cultural understanding. She is also part of a committee for Dal’s Culture of Respect initiative, has volunteered at the Dalhousie Student Union’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line and currently works at the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre.

“All these issues are important to me, so it wasn’t a matter of if I would get involved, but how,” Amina says.

Amina is also president of Dal’s Girls Take Initiative student society, which has helped with fundraising events for the Not 15 Million campaign, and a member of the Women in Technology Society.

If her goal was to get more involved, it’s difficult to see how Amina could have been any more successful.

“It’s something I would advise any student to do. It builds a sense of community, a sense of belonging and a sense of the bigger picture beyond academia.”