Amina Abawajy’s visits to her parents’ homeland of Ethiopia are special. “I feel at home there. We got to see our story before it started. And how we’re doing today is shaped by the decisions my parents made and their parents made,” says Amina. “It was a really humbling and connecting experience. When I go back home, I can see that it’s very community-oriented.”
Her parents arrived as refugees: her father, Abdulfetah, in 1989, and mother, Sueda, in 1990. The Oromo people were targeted and oppressed in many ways, including by being drafted. They chose Halifax as Abdulfetah’s brother was studying here. Abdulfetah completed grade 12 and graduated from Saint Mary’s University in chemistry. Unable to find work in his field, in 1999 he started Canadian Way Driver Training which attracts a diverse clientele because he speaks several languages. Sueda studied accounting there as well. Both have been ISANS volunteer interpreters and conduct settlement work. Amina says they are instrumental in her success, “but they definitely faced barriers and challenges.”
What they give me I hope to utilize and give back to the world.
She has three siblings: Aisha, completing applied computer science and political science; Khadija, just 18, in third-year medical sciences; and Hamza, in grade seven. They volunteer in the community, take Taekwondo and swim. “Almost everything is a family affair; whether it’s parent-teacher day or if I’m giving a talk, I can expect the whole family. It’s a supportive, all-hands-on-deck situation!”
The family speaks Oromo and their home is a place of celebration for Muslim holidays. The children attended Maritime Muslim Academy. “It was great to have time for prayers and to know my religious holidays were being observed,” says Amina. But as one of few Black families, she wishes there was more support and representation.
Amina started university at 16. “I was passionate about international studies as a way to connect to my community. Computer science was a financial decision to bridge my passion with relevant skills.” Growing up in Halifax, “navigating the intersections of sexism, anti-blackness and Islamophobia,” has shaped her experiences and where she is today — Dalhousie’s Education Advisor for Human Rights and Equity Services, ensuring that students, faculty, and staff know their rights and can access resources and services.
Amina was elected student union vice-president academic and external, and then president. She is currently Oromo Community Association’s communications officer and vice-chair of African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes. And she has started the Global Humanitarian Initiative Association to counter the “saviour complex” she finds in international development. Amina says she has a complicated relationship with the word Canadian. “I am indigenous in my lands. I think about the responsibilities the government has to my people and likewise the responsibilities this government has to the indigenous people here, the Mi’kmaq.” Amina dearly loves her home and also hopes to stay in Ethiopia often. “My family, my parents, my community were able to give me a strong foundation. What they give me I hope to utilize and give back to the world. And I hope that energy continues.”