All posts by maisha maliha badhon

Syrian Relief Charity Gala

Everyone is aware of the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis that has unfolded as a result. We all have read about the plight of the refugees, the reluctance of some nations to embrace them and the willingness of some to welcome them. Seeing such tragedy makes many of us want to help in any way possible. But we often don’t have that opportunity because we cannot physically go there and help. However, an opportunity was created by the Syrian Charity Gala which was held on 10th March in Laurel Packinghouse in downtown Kelowna. The event was organized by Fatima Zahra Sentissi, in support with UBC Students Union Okanagan (UBCSUO) and International Programs and Services (IPS).

Fatima is a 4th year Management student from Morocco. When she read about all that was happening to Syrians, she wanted to do something to help. She approached Romey Jaswal of UBCSUO. Romey was leading a Syrian Medical Relief Drive, raising money to collect medical supplies to send to field hospitals in Syria. He had successfully collected over $20,000 in retail worth of medical supplies from different individuals and entities in Kelowna. Fatima wanted to contribute to this initiative. She came up with the idea of organizing a Syrian Relief Charity Gala, which would not only raise money through donations and ticket sales but also create more awareness about the situation.

With financial and logistical support from UBCSUO and IPS, Fatima put together the gala. On the night of March 10th, Laurel Packinghouse was packed with UBCO students and individuals from the Kelowna community, including the Mayor of Kelowna. Every individual who bought a ticket to the event or made a donation did so because it gave them the opportunity to finally help in this crisis.

The event included some phenomenal performances from UBCO students and clubs such as UBCO Beats, Asian Student Association, African-Carribbean Club, Nosa and Czarina. Two performances that were particularly moving were a spoken word poem and a presentation, both done by Syrian undergraduate students at UBCO.

The poetry was recited by Marya Atassi. Through her performance, Marya conveyed the bitter truth about how refugees are viewed as outcasts no matter where they are. She wanted to convey that the victims of the war are the refugees who have lost their homes, how they are human beings just like us and wanted to belong to a community just like us. Her words left an impact on the audience about how the struggle for refugees doesn’t end in just reaching a safe country. It continues with making the country their new home.

On the other hand, the presentation was done by Karam Alshelh, another UBCO undergraduate student. The room went dark. Karam used visuals and sounds and explained the stark reality of the Syrian civil war. He showed pictures of his hometown before the war; it had beautiful streets and houses. But when he showed the images of the same places after the war, it sent a shiver down everyone’s spine. To see the difference and hear from a person who has lived there about his beautiful definition of home and what it had turned to, the war became that much more real.

With over 200 people attending, the gala raised $2000 in ticket sales and $500 from donations. The money was contributed towards the Syrian Medical Relief Drive. This gala enabled UBCO students and the Kelowna community to unite and show that we stand with the Syrians. We might be far away from them but we wish the best for them and hope that there is a peaceful solution to the conflict.

International Women’s Day Interviews: Part 4

In light of the celebration of International Women’s Week, the Global Spectrum, in collaboration with International Programs & Services, will showcase interviews with our UBC-O community. Enjoy!


Sierra Bharmal

Q: What makes a self-identified woman remarkable or exceptional?

For me a remarkable woman or self identified woman is somebody who doesn’t let either other woman or other people who identified as male to pick or have an impact on their decision on how to live their life

Q: Do you have a remarkable woman in mind? Why?

For me, a person who i find remarkable is my mom she made the decision to stop working, so that she could focus on her hobbies, she loves to play tennis and  she is improved a lot in the last year, she is taking the initiative to join classes, even if they can be intimidating. like for example in Santiago, she joined all male classes, so that she can improve her self. because she wanted to prove that she is just as good a the male, she exercises for her, because it makes her feel good. she doesn’t do it for anybody else. she takes interest in all hobbies that she wants, she learned to play the guitar, she continues to learn to speak Spanish, she wants to pick up another language and so for me she is remarkable, because she is doing what makes her happy without letting other people stop her.


Joses Akampurira

Q: Do you have a woman in mind who you think is remarkable or exceptional? Why?

The most remarkable woman would be a mother. Motherhood is not an easy gift, I can tell you its a choice that people make but its really though for raising a child, and a boy in that. But what is remarkable is all the sacrifices she makes. Having your only son go miles and miles away from you, knowing you will never get to see him until a year or more.

Just to live by the faith that he is okay in a world that you don’t know anything about, that is a huge sacrifice. It is this thing about a mother you can tell, how much they do for their children to be comfortable. They make so many sacrifices. That alone makes them remarkable!


Tolga Aday

Q: Do you have a woman in mind who you think is remarkable or exceptional? Why?

First of all I think we all humans are the same. Same spirit, same this, same that. I can’t say what makes a person special, but for a woman, there are different categories. Some people like the look, some people like the spirit. But for me, what makes a woman special is how she is independent at a time such as this. My mom is an independent woman and she has raised me.

The Journey of a Syrian Family: Part 4

As some hot tea and sweets were served by Mrs.Alsahoud, I asked Mohammad how life is now. He says with a relief how everything here is better than Jordan. There is no threat to him or his family’s lives and all of his children are enrolled in school. He is currently working in Toyota, washing cars. But one day, he wishes to go back to school and study math. That is when we both shared our fascination of the subject. I asked the kids how were they finding their new school. All five of them agreed on how it was good to be back to studying and explained they are enjoying their time in school. Mohammad interrupted me to say he has 6 more children. I asked where are they. He explained with sadness how they were scattered between Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and two of them were waiting at the Syrian border at the time because the Jordanian government was not accepting them. To lighten the mood, I asked him how he found Kelowna’s summer. The kids said how they found summer to be really beautiful, but some days it was as hot as it was in Syria. It turns out that we all shared an image of Canada as the ‘great white North’, and clearly we have been proven wrong by Kelowna! We ended the interview and as I was walking out, Mrs. Alsahoud hugged me.

What has truly inspired me is the optimism of the Alsahouds, the hospitality with which they treated me and how homely it felt. They didn’t let the war change who they are or darken their future. They didn’t let a war define their lives. They SURVIVED the war and decided to start a new chapter, make a new home. Sitting down with the Alsahoud family helped me understand the struggles of the war and know things that I would not have read in any news article. As a person who is an avid reader of current affairs, I have been following the Syrian War since the first protest. To be able to sit down with the people who have experienced the war, lived through it and survived, was truly a privilege. It made me appreciate my life more and increased the respect I had for refugees tenfold.

Refugees not just from Syria, but from other war-torn nations are fleeing to Europe. What can be seen is that very few nations are as welcoming to refugees as Canada and Germany has been. A lot of blame is being exchanged to avoid accepting refugees, many parties are on the defensive saying that they have done enough. Walls are being built, camps are like jails. Sometimes such behavior by nations makes me think that are they even treating these refugees as humans or as animals? After World War II, thousands of people from the Axis power nations fled elsewhere. The EU is one of the leading advocates for human rights. Now when the time has come to test them on the very same principles they advocate for, most EU nations have not stood up to it. However, it is not only Europe that needs to be looked at. Many Arab countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia have defended themselves by saying they have given shelter to millions of refugees. I salute them for this because they stepped up when many others didn’t. Still, they need to take the next step and ensure the integration of the refugees into their societies. The responsibility of the governments do not end by just sheltering the refugees and giving them food (sometimes it feels like a jail to them). The governments need to helps the refugees get jobs and their families settled. This also benefits the host nations because successful integration of the refugees into the society would mean that there will be a significant increase in the nation’s manpower and productive workforce. Refugees will then be able to contribute significantly to the host nation’s economy.

No one wants to flee their homes, turn their entire world upside down and feel that their life is at threat. No one wants to cross the Mediterranean with their children, knowing that they might die. No one wants to live in refugee camps and see their lives go by, helpless as they are unable to earn and improve the lives of their families and children. But sometimes all of these things do happen, and as much as it is unfortunate, they happen at the same time. These refugees are not criminals. They are law abiding citizens of their country where they either were a university student or professor, businessman, economist, engineer, scientist. They have the right, like every human being on this planet, to safety, security and happiness. They do not deserve to be treated as if they are unwanted, stopped by fences, be forced to walk hundreds of kilometers or live in refugee camps forever. They deserve to LIVE.


As I walked out, I asked Mohammad do you miss home?

He replied, “There is no home anymore.”




UBC Okanagan Students Union has taken a great initiative in helping out this family! Check it out:

The Journey of a Syrian Family: Part 3

Mohammad explained how refugee camps were not as great as one might think. Refugees were not able to get out of the camp without a sponsor or work permit (both of which were really expensive!). As Mohammad put it, ‘life in camps is a lot like prison’. When I asked why, he explained.

Syrians fled their country because it was either that or getting killed.  However, once crossing the border, the Jordanian government puts great hurdles (financially) in obtaining a work permit. Mohammad describes how he saw fellow Syrian brothers and sisters feeling trapped in the camps where there was no scope to work, there were no schools for the children and no one could go out of the camp. With hundreds of thousands of individuals sleeping and living in a small area and feeling trapped, this increases social problems. Mohammad elaborated that for the individuals who were able to obtain a work permit, getting jobs was harder as he found that the Jordanian society was not welcoming. Thus with no job, it was hard for these refugees to sustain their lives. For those working illegally in Jordan, it felt like a sword was hanging over their heads because if caught, then they would be deported back to Syria which to them was equivalent to dying.

Then I asked Mohammad that how did he come to Canada. He explained how the UN has a refugee database, as refugees have to apply to get the refugee status. The UN selected the Alsahoud family from its database, informing them that they had been accepted to be transferred to Canada. They were asked whether they agree and they said yes. Afterwards the Canadian embassy called them, asking various questions in an interview such as what Mohammad did in Syria, his background. This entire process took seven months. Finally, in May 2015, the Alsahoud family boarded the plane to Canada.

At this point in the interview, Mrs. Alsahoud comes in asking us to join for lunch. I looked at the watch and couldn’t believe that almost 2 hours had gone by. I saw halfway through the interview how Mrs. Alsahoud got up and went to the kitchen. But I didn’t realize that she was making a feast! It was my first time having Syrian cuisine and it was a delight! I had a Syrian version of hummus and it was quite delicious. Being an international student myself, it had been a long time since I sat with a family and ate a meal. Sitting with the Alsahouds, having food cooked by a mother’s hand, it kind of made me homesick and miss my mum .

Over lunch, we talked about life under the Assad regime and Mohammad explained how nepotism was pervasive. Bashar Al-Assad belonged to the Baath Party, a political party in Syria. He belonged to the Alawite minority . Thus these two groups got more preference. Mohammad had been in the army for 5 years. When he applied for a position in the army for which he was trained, he didn’t get it despite being one of the top candidates. The position was given to an individual from the Alawite sect. Things such as this was quite common. Merit and talent was not always valued; rather what was valued is whether you were from the Baath Party or the Alawite sect. Mohammad explained how Assad didn’t feel he was accountable to his people. During the 80s, in the middle of the night, some people came to his house and took his brother with them. The next morning, he went to the army office and asked about this. They asked him how did he know it was the army. Mohammad replied how he was in the army and knew that it was their car. The only reply the office gave was, ‘yes we took him but you don’t need to know why’. Since then, Mohammad hasn’t seen his brother.


The Journey of a Syrian Family: Part 2

Mohammad had been one of the first few Syrians to enter Jordan as a refugee. Refugees in Jordan require a sponsor to get out of the refugee camps and legally stay and work in Jordan. Mohammad was diligent in clarifying to me that a Jordanian sponsor was not the same as a Canadian sponsor. In Canada, when Mohammad arrived with his family, a local church and the Kelowna government together took the responsibility of supporting them in beginning their lives in this new place. This includes financial support for a year, providing support in getting a job for Mohammad, enrolling his children in school and settling his family in a house. In contrast, in Jordan a sponsor is only on paper, one whose signature is needed to allow refugees to legally stay in Jordan. Unfortunately, providing that signature is the only help sponsors will provide.

Mohammad had worked in Jordan between 1992-1993, during which time he made few friends. When he fled to Jordan in 2012, these friends in Jordan helped him get a sponsor. Furthermore, Mohammad was able to do some work by helping his friends in buying and selling things. But life was nowhere near what it had been in Syria. He was earning enough just to survive. The meager work that Mohammad did while in Jordan was not approved by the government via a work permit. One might wonder why didn’t Mohammad pursue the legal avenue?

Mohammad was one of the first fifty thousand Syrians to arrive in Jordan so he was fortunate, as back then sponsors didn’t demand money for providing their signatures. When a huge influx of refugees started coming in, Jordanian sponsors started charging a large fee for providing their signatures. On the other hand, the government of Jordan also charged for the work permit for these refugees. The work permit would allow them to live and work outside the refugee camps. Both options would enable the Syrian refugees to live in the Jordanian society, work and contribute to the economy. However, the integration of refugees was hindered by the financial cost, one which often was not feasible for those people who fled war and persecution from their country with very few belongings. Sponsors charging money was not legal, but like many other individuals such as human smugglers in the Mediterranean, everyone took an advantage of those in a dire situation.

The Journey of a Syrian Family: Part 1

On a Saturday morning in December, I visited the Alsahoud family. It had been eight months since they arrived in Canada, from a refugee camp in Jordan. I sat down with them to talk about their experiences, to hear first hand all that I read in the news and to see the war from their eyes.

In March 2011, residents of Homs started protesting against the oppressive regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Without a care for his people, Assad ordered the law enforcement officials for a severe crackdown on these protests. This resulted in the deaths of many civilians. In March 2012, the army entered Homs. Fully prepared with its tanks and big guns, the military displayed its mighty powers and ordered that if anyone stepped out of their house they would be shot. Homs was under a siege by the very military that was supposed to protect it.

One such Homs resident was Mohammad Alsahoud. He was a cattle merchant who led a prosperous life in Syria. He has 11 children, 5 of whom were below the age of 18. He had a big house and earned well. When the Syrian army besieged Homs, Mohammad was afraid about the safety of his family because the civil war that broke out hadn’t gotten any better in the last one year. So, on March 11th he fled with the minors, to an area thirty kilometers from Homs. On April 20th, Mohammad decided to cross the border to Jordan. He didn’t know what he would do there, neither did he know how his life would be. One thing he did know was that he had to leave his motherland as it was no longer safe.

The Other Side of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a developing country located in South Asia. With a population of over 160 million people, it is one of the most densely populated nations in the world.

For many, some of the first words  when hearing ‘Bangladesh’ are- ‘where is that?’, ‘is that a city?’, ‘poverty’. For me, there’s only one that comes to mind – HOME.

My country is home to the pioneer of Microfinance (an economic model that is uplifting millions out of poverty), Dr. Muhammad Yunus;Bangladesh is the Royal Bengal Tiger’s home, it also has the longest sea beach in the world. These are only few of the amazing things about Bangladesh.

The following photos show one side of Bangladesh, the side that associates the country with poverty, inequality:

Source: The New York Times ( The picture shows few people in a cold, winter morning transporting crops.
Source: The picture shows women working in the tea gardens of Bangladesh

The following pictures show the other side, a lesser known side of Bangladesh:

A country where every religion is respected (Khagrachori) (1)
A country where every religion is respected- Tausif Ejaz, UBCO Graduate School of Engineering , picture taken in Khagrachori, Bangladesh
Ahsan Manjil Through The Pinnacle (Old Dhaka)
Ahsan Manjil, seat of the Nawab Family of Dhaka- Tausif Ejaz, UBCO Graduate School of Engineering, picture taken in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh


On exchange, but didn’t even leave the country

Written by Mirabelle Arodi, 4th Year Biochemistry Major

” I’m going on exchange,”

” Oh cool! Where?”

” Montreal!”

” Oh…”

Even before they said it, I knew what was coming next: ” But that’s not really exchange. It’s still Canada,”

This is a conversation I’d had countless times— with friends, acquaintances, eavesdroppers– in the months before the fall semester. It always began with excitement, which immediately changed to either confusion or disinterest, once I told them that I would be going to McGill University for the fall semester. The fact that I wasn’t crossing borders on my journey abroad somehow seemed less impressive.

As an international student, coming to Canada for university was in itself ‘going abroad’.  It is an experience I have enjoyed so far, and what has been most enriching for me are the different people, cultures and ways of thinking that I have encountered in Kelowna. I have learned just as much, if not more, outside the classroom as I have inside lecture halls. One of the things I learned outside class, is that the province of British Columbia alone is twice the size of my home country, Kenya. To say that this new knowledge-bomb blew my mind would be an understatement. Sure, looking at maps (and the fact that a flight from Toronto to Kelowna is as long as a flight from Kenya to South Africa— nearly half the length of the African continent), I knew that Canada was a big country. Putting it in relation to Kenya, however, is what made me really understand just how big. And it got me thinking–if I can have such a wealth of experience and diversity in Kelowna, how much more must there be in the rest of Canada? I would love to explore all of Canada. But as I have already established (and probably beaten to death), Canada. Is. Big. I can’t explore it all at once. But I can start somewhere. It was a foregone conclusion when I looked a the Go Global partners schools, that my destination for exchange would be within Canada— and Montreal, Quebec, it was!

[That was the response I would have loved to give to all those people that were less impressed with my location choice for exchange. But I reckon it they would not have endured that longwinded justification.]

I probably could not have chosen a place more different from Kelowna. Montreal is on the opposite side of the country, predominantly French speaking, more multicultural, always awake, and has a subway system (which I am not the biggest fan of—such a gloomy place). Coming from the small town Kelowna, I definitely needed time to adjust to my new home for the next four months. I had studied French for over 5 years, so I thought I had the language part covered. What they didn’t teach me in class, however, is the blistering speed at which French speakers talk. Every interaction with a sales associate in a store, the teller at the supermarket, or barista, went the same way. They say something in French, to which I respond ‘pardon?’ with a blank look on my face as I try to process what they just said. They then swiftly repeat what they said in English, just as I had computed the French version. But by then it was too late– I had to carry the rest of conversation in English, all the while thinking, “I understood it the first time, all I needed was some time to process- honestly! Just give me a chance. Je parle Francais!!’ What is seriously impressive is how almost everyone in this city speaks at least two languages, sometimes three or more, and the ease with which they switched back and forth depending on who they are talking to. Two shopkeepers will speak to each other in Arabic, answer a customer’s question in French, and tell another customer his bill sum in English, all in one breath. I want to get to that point too, one day. (#Goals)

Something else that took me aback is how spoiled for choice one is in Montreal. There are countless cafes to study in, variety of cuisines to sample, and a range of clothing stores—from thrift shops to designer boutiques. Maybe this explains why Montrealers are ALWAYS dressed to the nines, whether it’s for class or a night out. Their fashion game is strong! I am yet to see anyone dressed in sweatpants outside of the gym. (But then again, it isn’t exam season yet). Even with so many options though, there are still hidden gems in in this city– like the grocery store where I can buy a week’s worth of produce for under $20, or the cozy little cafe that serves Tanzanian tea in your own personal tea pot.

There seems to be something for everyone in Montreal. Bars that have live jazz bands playing every night, nightclubs that have more of a pop-music sound, water fountain displays and outdoor temporary art installations. My personal favorite is taking walks; to the top of Mont Royal in the morning where I am rewarded with a panoramic view of the whole city, and around the interconnected streets downtown at night, where I am guaranteed to see something out of the ordinary—people salsa dancing on the sidewalk, buskers singing their lungs out, or a colorful graffiti mural so large that I have to look at it from a distance of 10 meters.

As I am writing this, I am exactly halfway through my exchange experience. I am finally settled in and had a taste of Montreal life (croissants and crepes included). But I feel that I have so much more to see and do. For instance, visiting Vieux Port in Old Montreal, shopping at the renowned farmers markets, and of course, indulging in some legendary poutine from La Banquise. I’m pretty sure that’s obligatory when one comes to the birth place of one of Canada’s greatest contributions to the [food] world.

Yes, I am still in Canada, and no, it is not all the same. I believe it is both dangerous and a disservice to assume that Canada is homogenous, and that living in one place means you’ve experienced all there is to Canada— that it warrants looking beyond it’s borders to find something new and exciting

And yes, it does count as going on exchange.




Canada, it’s time to VOTE

The ability to vote is a privilege in some countries and a government mandated right in others. However, this right does not exist in every country, such as in monarchies and dictatorships where no such things as free and fair elections and people’s right to vote exists.

The right to vote is a fundamental human right of every individual as stated in Article 21 of ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ by the United Nations.  Ensuring this right of the people is core to a functioning democracy. Being a Bangladeshi, I have witnessed elections create social unrest, protests-all because this fundamental right of the people was being infringed. And coming from a part of the world where this right is not always ensured, where sometimes politics and self-interest is above the nation’s interest, I value this right and respect the nations where citizens feel free to exercise it.

The 42nd general Canadian election will be held October 19th, 2015. This will be the day Canada decides who will be its next prime minister and which party leads the next four years. Canada is one of the nations in this world where politicians put the nation’s interest above their own. This doesn’t happen everywhere in the world. In countries like Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, people protest for free and fair election.  Clashes between protestors and security forces lead to loss of lives and injuries. People flee their villages and towns, leaving everything behind because the situation is so precarious. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth property is destroyed, the economy faces great damage- all because the people’s right to vote is violated. The right to vote is something that people have fought for hundreds of years. It is only fair that we, the citizens of this world, honour those who have given their lives for equal suffrage.

I urge every Canadian to vote on October 19th to exercise their right, to celebrate democracy, to help create change, to play a role in determining the future of your country.

Vote because YOUR vote matters.


Not sure how to vote or want to know more about the elections? The following link might help:


Harmony UBCO

An international talent show. A phenomenal intercultural exhibition.

These are some of the phrases one could use to describe Harmony UBCO, a multi club collaboration between 10 of our campus’ cultural clubs. The purpose of the event was to celebrate the diversity on our campus and promote greater intercultural communication.

The night started out with food being served to the students and, must I say, what a feast it was! Bangladeshi, Indonesian, Nepali, African-Caribbean, Arab-to name a few- the variety of food was astounding. I got a chance to indulge myself in some delicious dishes that I have never tasted before. Once everyone ate, the audience was ready to see some performances.

The host for the night was special guest Jus Reign’s right hand Babbulicious, ‘Babbu’ for short. The rain might have dampened the spirits of people, but Babbu sure managed to uplift them and cheer the crowd. The performances started with the Okanagan Anthem followed by a performance from the Indigenous Students Association. Being an international student myself, I wasn’t much aware of the culture of the Indigenous people. But to have seen them display their culture through singing some beautiful songs was truly enriching. After that, there was a fashion show by the Nepalese Student Association. It was an amazing effort by the Nepalese community in Kelowna to showcase their culture’s clothing, much of which we don’t get a chance to see. Following the showcase was the Russian Speaker’s Student Association, which was a friendly surprise. I expected to see a Russian performance but, as a bonus, the audience was entertained by dances from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan! From Central Asia, we then took a jump to South East Asia. The South Asian Student Alliance put up a bunch of upbeat Bollywood performances that surely got the audience dancing to its groove. The unexpected mash up of an American song and Bhangra (an Indian dance form), was a stunning addition to the evening. Following this was the beautiful dance performance by the Association of Bangladeshi Students on a Bangla folk song. Just when you thought there are only performances, in the last act of the night the European Student Association played a game of trivia. Forming teams with the help of some volunteers from the audience and pitting them against each other. We got to know about Europe in a way much more interesting than reading Wikipedia!

This event helped showcase many things about different cultures that we don’t see in the mainstream media. This was made possible because of the diversity on our campus. It is this diversity which enriches our experience at UBCO and helps us get to know more about the world in a more personal way. For many students, it was a chance to see this and know what more UBCO has to offer. I’d like to conclude by giving a huge shout out to the UBCO Students Union for putting together such a great event!!


Harmony 2 Harmony 1