Melenna Awaju: An Interview with the Founders of the Eritrean Youth Initiative (EYI)

Melena Awaju

Melena Awaju

EYI Founders: Negash Abraha, Saba Ahferom Berhane & Efrem Berhe

EYI Founders: Negash Abraha, Saba Ahferom Berhane & Efrem Berhe

Photo Credits: Feven Mike |

By Melenna Awaju

Biographies –

Negash AbrahaI’m an economist at the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO). I did a B.A. in Political Sciences and a minor in Economics at the University of Calgary. I also received a B.Sc. (Hons) in Economics at the University of Ottawa before heading abroad to France for my post graduate diploma in Sciences politiques. I am currently doing my M.A. in Economics at the University of Ottawa. My biggest influences are my father, grandfather and really anyone who works hard and tries to be successful with a positive attitude and little resources at their disposal.

Saba Ahferom BerhaneI am a Scientific Evaluator at Health Canada. I grew up back home in Eritrea and came to Canada when I was sixteen years old. I received my B.Sc. (Hons) in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Ottawa. My greatest influences are my parents, who are hard-working, determined, and have taught me everything that I know today.

Efrem Berhe I am a Policy Analyst on Youth Employment and Access to Education with Employment & Social Development Canada. I also grew up back home in Eritrea and immigrated to Canada when I was sixteen. Currently, I am a fourth year student studying Public Affairs and Policy Management with a specialization in International Studies and a minor in Economics at Carleton University. The most inspirational people in my life are my siblings and former President Barack Obama.

What exactly is the Eritrean Youth Initiative? Do you address some issues Eritrean youth face today in Canada and if so, how?

The initial idea for this youth group was first conceived by Negash and he was kind enough to share his wonderful idea with Efrem and I after which we embarked on this journey to make it possible. And thus here we are today.

The concept of the EYI is simple: How can we motivate our young and brilliant Eritrean-Canadians with unlimited potential to succeed? We believe we are the first organization to offer scholarships and bursaries to Eritrean youth in Canada. We believe encouragement can pave the way for a bright future.

There are two main goals of this youth initiative. The first is the scholarship. We believe a scholarship is a really good incentive for the young Eritreans in the community as it gives them a sense of belonging and the assurance that their community is backing them. Whether it is a $500, $1000, or $2000 scholarship, it can go a long way towards helping the kids both mentally and financially. The second main goal of this youth group is all about inspiration. As our motto indicates, we want to inspire youth so that they can aspire for a brighter future. Many of us growing up here barely knew of any local Eritreans similar in age that we could have looked up to. We didn’t know that there were so many accomplished and educated Eritreans in Ottawa alone because there is no network and no strong community. However, through our events, we aim to bring so many young Eritreans together so that they can have these networking opportunities with their elders, peers, university students, and young professionals in order to exchange ideas and receive advice about school and their future careers. 

I attended your Inaugural Fundraiser Dinner on March 4th and it was truly a success, so congratulations to you three! Would you mind elaborating on the particulars of the event and is there anyone you’d like to thank?

Yes, we were excited to hear from our distinguished speakers including Berhanu Idris from Health Canada, Dr. Eyob Fissuh from Statistics Canada, and James Heuchan from the Bank of Montreal (BMO). All their words were listened to carefully by the youth and parents in attendance. We all really appreciated their efforts for making the time to come and share their wisdom. A special thank you goes to James from BMO who gave valuable information on the RESP It was wonderful to see the youth asking questions on how to manage their finances before they attend post-secondary. Also, thank you to Berhanu and Dr. Eyob for reiterating the value of education, networking, co-op, and hard work when it comes to achieving future goals.

We also would like to thank our corporate sponsors who generously provided raffle prizes and Hareg restaurant for providing a great venue and delicious food and drinks.

Those in attendance were also lucky to hear a special message from our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mayor Jim Watson on the importance of an Eritrean-Canadian Scholarship Fund. We were deeply humbled and encouraged by their support.



Any last words for the readers of Black Ottawa Scene? What’s the most important point you’d like the readers to remember about the EYI?

We really want to motivate young people to be leaders of TODAY – why wait for tomorrow? Also, we’d appreciate donations towards the EYI Scholarship Fund. Our goal is to raise $2000 for this year and through our first fundraising event we were able to make it halfway! [For online donations, click the following link:] This scholarship will be awarded to a student who will start university this fall. Applications for the scholarship will be handled through an independent non-bias committee composed of individuals who have no connection to the Eritrean community. For those willing to apply, stay tuned for the launch of the scholarship which will arrive shortly!

Interviewer’s Final Comments:

As a young member of the Eritrean community, I can second the founders’ concerns on the unavailability of a networking base and a strong supportive community for the Eritrean youth in Ottawa. This organization is definitely something I’ve been hoping and waiting for, so I’m very thankful for its initiation. It definitely proves that Eritrean youth in the Ottawa area now have a community they can look up to for support towards academic success and for a bright and prosperous future!

A special thank you goes to the founders who took the time to sit down and chat with me about the EYI and I only hope it reaches more and more passionate Eritreans in the years to come!


– Contact Information –

Online Donation: will be awarded to a student who will start university in Fall 2017. Application for the scholarship will be handled through an independent non-bias committee composed of individuals who have no connection to the Eritrean community.



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About the writer

My name is Melenna Awaju and I’m a graduating high school student who has previously written for B.O.S. and is inspired to write not only about local inequities but also achievements and milestones reached within the Black community. As an Eritrean-Canadian, I’ve (for years now) been researching, talking amongst community members and important stakeholders and learning about Eritrean history and the development of the Eritrean community in Ottawa. This article is very close to heart because it celebrates an important milestone that I truly believe, as a young adult, needed to be achieved. Aside from my leadership roles and volunteering, I enjoy dance and reading.


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