Meet Yohana Weldguirguis, the Canadian fundraising and advocating for the rights of those forced to flee Tigray, Ethiopia.
By Yohana Weldguirguis, as told to Hannah Scott and Hawa Maiga
Born in Sudan, Yohana Weldguirguis came to Canada in 1998. Throughout the years, Yohana’s caring spirit has guided her to advocate for those who need it most. After graduating from the University of Toronto, she worked for a non-profit focusing on waste management and energy conservation. Afterwards, she travelled to Tokyo to teach English. Today in Toronto, Yohana continues to teach pupils online via Zoom during the pandemic lockdown while also devoting time to volunteer at a local food bank three days a week.
Originally from Tigray, Ethiopia, Yohana knew she had to act when she learned of the devastation happening the area. Since the outbreak of the crisis in the Tigray region, Yohana has been fundraising and raising awareness to help the more than 52,000 refugees who have fled, including her brother and other family members. In this interview, she shares why she never hesitates to say #IAmAnAdvocate for refugees.
What inspired you to raise funds for the Ethiopia emergency, and why did you decide to raise funds for UNHCR?
I was inspired to raise funds for the Ethiopia emergency because, this year, the Tigray region had the worst locust invasion in 25 years. It destroyed more than 200,0000 hectares — almost half a million of acres — of farmland. In addition, COVID-19 is spreading fast. There has been a total communication blackout in the region for weeks.
On a personal note, I have family living in Tigray region. My brother and his children live in Tigray, along with many other family members, and I have not been able to get in touch with them. I worry for my family and the other people living in Tigray. They deserve adequate access to food and water to ensure their livelihood. I decided to raise funds for UNHCR because it is an incredibly reputable organization that has the ability to assist refugees at a scale few organizations actually can. The resources UNHCR can mobilize in a short period of time is what’s needed to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Tigray and worldwide.
“I have family living in Tigray region. My brother and his children live in Tigray, along with many other family members, and I have not been able to get in touch with them.”
How are you working with the community to fundraise for UNHCR?
I have been raising funds by sending emails to family and friends as well as posting on social media. I also have tried calling businesses that make donations to charities. During these difficult times with COVID-19, when we are all struggling to keep our own families safe and healthy, it has warmed my heart to know how generous and sympathetic people have been to refugees in Sudan.
“It has warmed my heart to know how generous and sympathetic people have been to refugees in Sudan.”
Refugee advocates are so important to the community – they help uplift refugees and displaced people when they need it most. How do you advocate for refugees?
Besides raising funds, I’ve been using my social media presence to raise awareness about the current Tigrayan population seeking asylum in Sudan and the situation in the Tigray region.
Canada has a strong history of supporting refugees. To you, what is the importance of bringing refugees issues to the forefront of the conversation, in Canada and worldwide?
Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. Since Canada signed the Refugee Convention, it has vowed to help protect them. Since 1980, one million refugees have been resettled in Canada. These refugees have been able to find permanent homes and contribute their talents to Canadian society. Since Canada has stepped up in standing up for refugees over the years, it has been seen as a world leader in protecting refugees. It is important that the international community ensure the safety of those who are no longer protected by their own government due to a lack of ability or unwillingness.
This year, UNHCR is celebrating its 70th anniversary. For the past seven decades, the UN Refugee Agency has been helping and supporting refugees and other displaced people. But in 2020, more than 80 million people remain displaced around the world. When you hear these statistics about the scale of the refugee emergency, how do you feel?
It breaks my heart to know that there are 80 million people who remain displaced around the world. We must call for action from the international community to ensure the rights of these individuals are protected.
“I’m grateful for organizations such as UNHCR who are on the ground ready and able to help the most vulnerable around the world.”
It’s my hope one day the world can eradicate violence, poverty and ensure the basic rights of all individuals regardless of their class or ethnicity. Governments have the responsibility for protecting the human rights of all of their citizens. These resilient individuals are trekking in the blazing sun or putting their children in boats because the water is safer than the land. I’m grateful for organizations such as UNHCR who are on the ground ready and able to help the most vulnerable around the world.