A Better World volunteers win coveted Central Alberta awards

By LAURA TESTER

A Somali native and a Lacombe high school student have led different lives, but at least one goal in life is the same.

Zainab Mohamoud and Kelsey Olsen are keen to help children in East Africa.

Mohamoud, who recently left her position at the Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association in Red Deer, is overseeing a school project in northern Somalia while Olsen, a Grade 12 student at Lacombe Composite High School, led her school club to raise money for a Kenyan orphanage.

Mohamoud grew up in Somalia, a country that saw its central government overthrown in 1991 and more than two decades of ensuing civil war.

“When we had the government, everything was normal,”

said Mohamoud. “It was summertime and I was looking forward to high school and within two months, no one was going to school because the government had collapsed. My future had vanished.”

She left for Ethiopia and moved to Canada in 1997. After being in Toronto and Calgary, Mohamoud attended Red Deer College and was hired on with the immigrant women’s association.

Mohamoud felt fortunate to attend high school and college in Canada because back home it’s tough for girls to go to school.

“Girls get married very young so it’s not seen as a good investment to send them to school,” said Mohamoud.

In May 2014, she began raising money to build a Grade 1 to 8 school for girls and boys. Mohamoud sent a proposal to A Better World, which agreed to support it. So far, about $40,000 has been raised, including $10,000 given by A Better World. People can donate online through A Better World and receive a tax receipt.

She’s excited several Somali communities are investing in the project, including ones in Toronto, Columbus, Ohio, Minneapolis, Minn. and Boston, Mass. Mohamoud is also grateful for Central Alberta’s support.

“The money is really going to the people (in Somalia) who need it. I want to see the Somali (people) to have an opportunity for an education and to have a better future, not just surviving.”

She was also busy teaching immigrant women about breast cancer awareness and helped organize Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation fundraisers.

Mohamoud left her job as breast cancer screening project

co-ordinator the end of March so she can supervise the school construction and get the community involved. The project is located in Boam, a community of about 40,000.

Her dedication to immigrant women and Somali children earned accolades among Central Alberta women. In March, Soroptimist International of Central Alberta awarded Mohamoud the Ruby Award, given to a woman who helps improve the lives of other women and girls through her professional and/or volunteer work.

The Soroptimist chapter gave Olsen the Violet Richardson Award, a recognition program for 14-17-year-old girls participating in volunteer activities in their schools or communities.

Olsen belongs to the school’s Rotary Interact Club and sponsored by the local Rotary Club.

In the last several years, the club has fundraised a micro-loan project in Guatemala and an ABW school project in Haiti. As club president for 2014-15, Olsen led about 20 Interact members to raise $2,000 for a water well at St. Ann Baby and Children’s Home. Lacombe Rotary Club agreed to match the funds.

“I don’t think I would have thought about asking (the Rotary Club to help) had they not done it in the past,” said Olsen.

Olsen also donated $500 from the Soroptimist award.

“Helping out with all those projects makes you forget about yourself and it makes me happier,” said Olsen, 17. “I have more gratitude for all the things that I have.”

The award also recognized Olsen for helping organize summer dance camps for girls. She grew up dancing with the Rosedale Valley School of Dance. She’s also active in

rugby and badminton, as well as piano.

Olsen plans to take registered nursing this fall and later go on a trip with A Better World. She believes her desire to volunteer comes from her parents, Greg and Debbie, and three older brothers.

“It’s a huge honour to get the award,” Olsen said. “It makes me want to help even more.”