Holland College Blog

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Meet language student Khadar Tawane Hilowle

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Khadar and and his family.

Khadar and and his family.

Many newcomers to Prince Edward Island choose to come here because of the immigration programs that are available to them, or because of the unique opportunities that they will have here. Others have had no choice in the matter.  Last year, approximately 6%, or 92 of the 1,557 newcomers to Prince Edward Island were refugees.*

Khadar Tawane Hilowle came to Prince Edward Island as a refugee in 2013.

He spent more than 20 years in Hagadera, part of the largest refugee camp in the world, in Dadaab, Kenya. According to United Nations statistics, there were 332,749 Somali refugees living in 77,760 households in Dadaab as of the end of May, 2015.

Khadar lost his entire family when he was a small child at the beginning of the Somali Civil War in 1991. Another Somali family found him wandering alone and took him in. They estimated that he was 9 years old, but he’s not sure.

The loss of his parents and all of his family is not something he can talk about easily, preferring to live in the present rather than the past.

“My life is now,” he explains.

When the family fled Somalia, they took Khadar with them, and were placed in Hagadera. In the 20 years that Khadar lived in the camp, he managed to earn a teacher’s certificate, and became an elementary school teacher in the camp’s school. Eventually, he took on the administrative role of Head Teacher. His wife, Fatumo, is the oldest daughter of his adopted family. Fatumo was as a health care worker in the camp.

Mc Sweeney, Department of Government, UCC

Mc Sweeney, Department of Government, UCC

Khadar said over the two decades in the camp, he developed a sense of “bufis”, a Somali word the expresses the longing to resettle in a developed country.

“Your hope is that it will become safe to return to your home, but after 20 years, you know it won’t happen, and resettlement is only for the luckiest people…we thought it was like going from Hell to Heaven.”

“That dream was in my mind every day when I woke up in a house made of twisted trees with plastic on top. Most people wanted to be resettled, but it is not their own decision.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) selects likely candidates for resettlement.

“At 8:30 every morning, there was an update from UNHCR on the notice board with the name, time, date, location for resettlement interviews. One day I was at my desk as school principal when I received a phone call from my friend, my name was on the UNHCR notice board for resettlement. I called my wife and gave her the good news.”

“It was a really happy moment, but there were a lot of steps still to happen.”

Image downloaded from The Guardian.

Image downloaded from The Guardian.

The couple had four young children by the time they learned that they were being considered for a resettlement program.

“It’s a long process. We were selected on certain criteria, and you can be rejected. After all the screening and profiling you wait to hear if you have been accepted and where you will be sent.”

Some people wait for up to five years to find out where they will be going, or if they will be going anywhere at all.

“Eventually, I got an envelope from an embassy. You never know what is inside. It is called ‘Feedback’.  Some people open the envelope and it says, ‘Rejected’.”

He remembers the deep depression that those who were rejected for resettlement would fall into.

Finally, after three years, Khadar and his family learned they would be resettled in Canada.

Khadar and Fatumo found themselves on a journey that would take them more than 10,000 km away from the refugee camp in which they had spent most of their lives, heading for a country about which they knew very little, and to a province about which they knew even less.

The journey from Kenya to Charlottetown was grueling. With four small children in their arms, the couple embarked on a journey that took them from Nairobi to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Toronto, and finally, Toronto to Charlottetown. At each leg of the journey, UNHCR workers met their flight to ensure that they safely made the connecting flight.

By the time the family arrived in Prince Edward Island, they were exhausted. They were met at the airport by a group from the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, who facilitated their resettlement.

Khadar is enrolled in language training at Holland College. Now the couple have five children, Farhiyo Khadar, 7; Fosiyo khaddar, 5; Abdilatif Khadar, 4; Hadis Khadar, 3; and Yasin Khadar, who will be one year old in November. Fatumo was in language training, too, until the arrival of little Yasin.

“This baby is an Islander,” Khadar says, smiling.

“Now the children speak English and my wife doesn’t know what they’re saying,” he laughs, noting that she intends to go back to language training as soon as the baby is old enough.

“She made lots of friends when she was in the program, and she keeps in touch with them,” he adds.

Khadar’s strongest desire is to be able to work in order to provide financial stability for his family. His teaching credentials are not recognized in Canada, so he must retrain if he hopes to find full-time employment. The couple would also like to become financially stable so that they could eventually sponsor their parents, who are still in Hagadera, to come to Canada.

He hopes to take a trades program at Holland College; but he is concerned about providing for his young family and repaying his resettlement loan, so right now, his education is on hold.

Khadar is deeply concerned about the misconceptions refugees have when they are resettled after years of yearning for a better life. He says that, although life on the Island is much better than life in the refugee camp, the challenges are still daunting.

“Don’t have unrealistic expectations,” he warns. “Life is life where ever you are. It is a struggle.”

For Khadar, the realization of his dreams will have to wait a little longer.


Dadaab….a forgotten city in the 21st century. Damien Mc Sweeney, Department of Government, UCC.  http://publish.ucc.ie/boolean/2011/00/McSweeney/33/en. Downloaded June 22, 2015

The Guardian. Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, 20 years on – in pictures. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2011/mar/24/dadaab-refugee-camps-in-pictures. Downloaded June 22, 2015

UNHCR: http://data.unhcr.org/horn-of-africa/region.php?id=3&country=110

PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada Annual Report 2013/2014


Written by Sara Underwood

June 29, 2015 at 9:52 am

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