“The Awakening” forum

“The Awakening” forum brings together Somali Youth leaders

Somali Youth leaders pose for a group pic

Somali Youth leaders pose for a group pic

by Hassan Souleiman

Saturday January 13th 2018 marked the 7th annual awakening conference where the theme this year was: ‘‘Agents of Change: Igniting the Rising Generation’’. With over 200 attendees ranging from young professionals to students and community partners, the event this year was held at the heart of Ottawa’s new tourism hub; Lansdowne Park. The objective of the conference was twofold: first, to celebrate and recognize Somali achievements and accomplishments by sharing journeys and different struggles along the way and secondly, to raise awareness and create meaningful dialogue about issues facing Somali Diaspora communities around the world and here in Canada.

The conference this year had 5 new speakers with each a unique and inspiring story, followed by an interactive panel discussion with the speakers, live entertainment, and of course the award ceremony.

To start of the night, the first speaker, Ismail Abdulle, shared his journey on overcoming adversities through his path leading up to medicine school. He explained that rejection can be used as an opportunity to build a stronger character and that challenges give rise to positive outcomes when coupled with perseverance and hard work.

Mohammed Ibrahim Shire, co-founder of Somali faces, an online project that shares the journeys of Somali individuals across the world, continued the night by telling the story of Ayeeyo(translated as grandmother in Somali) Muumino. A lady that has faced a great amount of shortcomings in her life where she was often left to beg as a means to provide for her disabled son and her grandchildren. Using the worldwide platform built by storytelling, Somali faces decided to raise funds in order to buy Ayeeyo Muumino land and also a shop near her house as well as provide essential training to her grandchildren on daily business operations. Mohammed ended his speech by a warm remainder that stories ’’make you see the beauty in people, make you smile with them, laugh with them and cry with them. Ultimately, stories inspire to challenge the negative perceptions’’.

The next speaker, Anita Vandebeld, Member of Parliament, shared a short message on the efforts of the community and how she was inspired by the rising generation leading by example. She outlined that ‘‘when our neighbors do well, we all do well and we all rise together ’’ and concluded by expressing her encouragement to the agents of change making improvements and positive impacts across the country.

The first keynote speaker, Asha Siad, an award-winning journalist and a documentary filmmaker recounted her passionate journey that was aimed at sharing untold stories highlighting multiple issues such as inter-generational trauma faced by indigenous youth, the silences around breast cancer in ethnic communities and the narratives of refugees. As a tool to share the hardships and moments of joy encountered by the individuals she has met, Asha has released documentaries such as “Living at the border” and “19 days” which each provide a deeper insight into the life and challenges refugees must undergo. As a key take away from her experience, she reminded the audience that ‘‘Journalism is about sharing human stories’’ despite the adversities and pressures to cover alternative topics.

The final keynote speaker, Fowsia Abdulkadir, an independent researcher, human activist and a member of the Canadian Somali Mothers Association (CSMA), shared the story of the birth of this organization and the sustained efforts of Somali Mothers to tackle growing community concerns. Their hard work has been recognized this year by Crime Prevention Ottawa by winning the Community Safety award. Fowzia went on to explain the importance of considering the issue of youth violence in the community from various angles and to understand the existing relationship with the internal/external factors to the community. She utilized a powerful African proverb to explain this further ‘‘If the young are not initiated to the village, they will burn it down just too feel its warmth’’ meaning that there must be compassion and understanding for those that make mistakes. Fowzia concluded her outstanding speech with a message for the current and future agents of change that ‘‘We must have enough space in our communities heart to bring those who might be facing challenges and those might have strayed from the right path back to the fold as opposed to throwing them out to racism and capitalism’’

This year’s lifetime Achievement award was presented to long time community member and director of the Somali Centre for Family Services (SCFS) Abdirazak Karod. The Community Engagement award was presented to Zeinab Mohamed for her tremendous involvement in the community through her homework club that has assisted numerous youth over the years. There was also an additional special award this year, the United Way Community Builder award, given to Sharmaarke Abdullahi, Vice-President and organizing committee member, for his extensive and amazing contributions as volunteer throughout the years to build a better and safer community.

“This year’s event truly brought the conference to a whole new plateau. The location and decoration were amazing, the guest speakers were great and the entertainment was definitely a nice touch. The growth of this event since I have been attending throughout the years has been remarkable. I am excited for what the future holds for Awakening! ” –awakening conference participant.

With a modified look and an excellent agenda, the conference this year added to the historical success of the event mainly due to the hard work and dedication of the organizing committee.


About the writer

Hassan Souleman

Hassan Souleiman is currently a public servant for the Federal Government of Canada. During the past years, he volunteered for numerous community programs such as Somali Canadian Youth Mentorship (SCYM) as well as student-run projects such as Future Leaders in Youth with the help of Enactus.  
Hassan has been a strong supporter of the Awakening conference for several years and has seen the growth of this event year over year. With a background mainly in finance and accounting, he cannot wait to contribute to this years’ conference and add-on to the historical success of this event



Pics courtesy of Ifrah Hassan

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