Mohammad Diyaa Wael Ammori (YR 44/2019, Palestine/Lebanon) is an optimist driven by determination.
“I think it is mostly the type of person I am,” he says in a gentle but firm voice that belies the breadth of experiences he has already packed into his 18 years. “I was born in Syria but I am Palestinian. I grew up in a humble, traditional family – a very modest upbringing in one of the largest refugee camps in Damascus…it was modest, but people were supportive and sharing.”
At 12, conflict in Syria saw his family relocating to a crowded refugee camp community in Lebanon. “When I first arrived, I couldn’t find a school that would take me. I was in 7th grade but the school principals wouldn’t accept me because of my nationality, my status as a refugee. Eventually, I could get in…and showed good grades.”
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), estimates there are more than 65 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. More than half are under 18. Of those displaced young people, just over 20 per cent access some form of secondary education – an essential step to a university education and often, a path to dignity and security for an entire extended family.
For several decades, Pearson College UWC has welcomed and educated young people of promise – like Mohammad — who have refugee backgrounds or come from conflict zones. More than 50 students with refugee backgrounds have attended Pearson, typically on full scholarships thanks to generous donors.
Pearson is allied with the entire United World Colleges (UWC) Movement in a global effort to support at least 100 young refugees per year in becoming tomorrow’s leaders and agents of change. The UWC Refugee Initiative is supported by UNHCR which provides guidance on refugee policy, technical advice and helps promote the scholarship program among refugee communities and their allies.
“Before I heard of UWC, I was studying in a secondary school in one of the biggest camps in Lebanon. But this camp was very chaotic, it was dangerous and there was much uncertainty. You never know when an armed group in camp would start something and the teacher would have to stop, and we would all have to evacuate to our houses – sometimes in the middle of the day.
“I realized the message of education is not the one I was learning at that time. I realized that education was peace, not violence, that it is understanding, not underestimating the people around you.
“I looked for something that could offer me a good environment for education. I volunteered at a project called Unite Lebanon Youth Project. Around that time, I heard about the message of the UWC through the national committee for UWC Lebanon. I thought, that is exactly what I was looking for – I was eager to apply.”
“I came to Pearson with a purpose, with a dream, with passions. My dream is to study medicine and become a doctor. I’d like to volunteer at a non-profit organization like Doctors Without Borders/MSF. It’s one of the things that may allow me to help the situation back home – and try to alleviate suffering.
“I am so grateful to everyone who helped me get here…I will never forget these efforts. You have opened a window for me to the world and one day I will give your efforts back to the community and the world.”
In August, four members of the Victoria Foundation team had the chance to meet Mohammad on campus. Mohammad and his peer, Laila offered the group a College tour, including a behind the scenes look at the newly renovated McLaughlin House student residence where they live.
If you would like to learn more about Pearson College, please visit their website at www.pearsoncollege.ca
Brian Geary is the Director of Communications for Pearson College UWC.