Ammar Shirwani, a second year U of O history student, shares his story of leaving England. Photo: Anchal Sharma.
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Open mic night raises money for the people of Myanmar

Café Alt is no stranger to open mic night, which is why the University of Ottawa chapter of Human Concern International (HCI) decided to host its first fundraising event of the year at this venue on Friday, Nov. 4.

The event, called Tell Me Your Story: Leaving Home, saw students take to the stage in poetic or storytelling fashion to share their transitionary tales of leaving home behind to find a new one in Canada. Experiences ranged from the hardships of places like Columbia, to leaving comfortable homes in England and Dubai.

While there was no cover charge to attend, Tell Me Your Story raised funds for the marginalized population of Myanmar, who have lived under harsh military rule for decades, through a suggested donation of $5. Coffee and snacks were provided by sponsors such as Tim Hortons and Sobeys, as well as local families who provided baked goods to support the cause.

Houda Halwani, a third-year international development and globalization student at the U of O, explained the choice of theme.

“The reason we chose (‘Leaving Home’ as) the theme is that there are a lot of internally displaced people in Myanmar and we’re raising money for marginalized communities,” said Halwani. She added that “the money that (they) raise is going to go to a program that HCI delivers in Myanmar to provide … anything within the spectrum of education to local schools.”

HCI is a non-profit charity organization that raises funds for disaster-struck areas around the world. The Ottawa based organization was founded in 1979 and last year the University of Ottawa was approached to start their own chapter.

Diana Katawazi, a U of O alumna and communications officer at HCI, helped open the club when she was a student. Katawazi explained that she volunteered with the organization in 2015, and has been passionate about their causes since then.

“The organization started off in the 80s to help Afghan refugees fleeing from the war,” she said. “They’ve delivered over $100 million in aid to all different types of causes, from the Bosnian war, to the Somali drought, to all sorts of catastrophic events.”

“Right now one of our main causes is Syria, and today we’re supporting Burmese communities.”

As for the Nov. 4 event at Café Alt, Katawazi said that they wanted to do something different that would encourage members of the community to come out and speak.

“Poetry night’s been kind of overdone, and it’s pretty restrictive because you can only do poetry. So we thought maybe we’d do something creative where you can do poetry, and maybe something else as well, and just share anything.”

Layan Malhis and Fahma Khalif, also international development and globalization students at the U of O, explained that although HCI has been on campus for a year, this was their first official event.  

“We opened up the university chapter last year, but we weren’t that active,” said Malhis, explaining that most of their previous efforts were through tabling in order to promote the organization and make themselves known within the university.   

According to Khalif, one of the best things about raising funds through HCI is that you know your funds won’t be wasted, since they can choose the programs that receive the donations.

“We’re kept up to date about exactly where the money is going, unlike other organizations where you don’t end up hearing what happens.”

Future events that the U of O chapter of HCI hope to hold are a blanket exercise to learn more about the Indigenous history in Canada and to raise money and awareness for water security for Indigenous people, as well as a dodgeball tournament.

To learn more about the student group and how you can get involved, check out their Facebook page.


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