Riyam AL-Zuhairi: a champion for education and refugees

By: Results Canada Published: 17/05/2024

Hi, I'm Riyam AL-Zuhairi, a 25-year-old from Iraq. I lived as a refugee in Jordan for 7 years, and now I live in Manitoba, Canada.

As an Iraqi refugee, continuing my education was a constant uphill battle, particularly at the higher education level. Countless obstacles stood in my path, but none were as crushing as the financial burden. Iraqi refugees like myself received no assistance, and to make matters worse, we were barred from legal employment in Jordan. This meant no income, no means to support ourselves, let alone afford education.

Additionally, returning to the classroom as an older student was a heartbreaking experience. Years lost amidst the turmoil of conflict in Iraq and the upheaval of moving to Jordan left me feeling like a stranger in my own education journey, surrounded by classmates who had moved forward while I had a harder start.

During my time in Jordan, however, I found great fulfillment in engaging in voluntary work across various organizations. One role stood out to me above all others: teaching English as a second language to fellow refugees and community members. It was a privilege to immerse myself in their stories and cultures, and I was honored to be promoted to lead the program. These experiences have enriched my understanding of resilience, diversity, and the power of education to transform lives.

Today, I am still fulfilling my passion for volunteering and helping others.

Riyam’s work with the Refugee Education Council

I am an educator and advocate with the Refugee Education Council, where my passion lies in empowering refugee communities through education. I am deeply committed to ensuring that every refugee, regardless of their background or circumstances, has access to quality education and the opportunity to thrive.

Seeing the transformative impact that education can have on individuals and communities fuels my dedication to advocating for inclusive and equitable educational policies and programs. I am particularly passionate about creating safe and supportive learning environments where refugees feel valued, respected, and empowered to reach their full potential.

Through my work, I strive to amplify the voices of refugee learners, advocate for their rights, and foster a culture of empathy, understanding, and solidarity within the broader community. Ultimately, my goal is to contribute to building a more inclusive and compassionate society where education is recognized as a fundamental human right for all.

Spotlighting Riyam - a dear friend and passionate, young advocate committed to ensuring children in emergencies can realize their full potential amidst adversity.
Youth advocates Riyam and Valery, from the Refugee Education Council, and Bisman, from Plan International Canada's Girls Belong Here program, met with decision-makers at Results' #ChampionChildrenInEmergencies reception last November (2023). Pictured (from left to right): MP Karen Vecchio, MP Stéphane Bergeron, MP Carol Hughes, MP Heather McPherson, Valery Bishala, Riyam Al-Zuhairi, Bisman Randhawa, Parliamentary Secretary Anita Vandenbeld and MP Shaun Chen.

Riyam’s work with Results Canada

I joined Results Canada because I am deeply passionate about advocating for positive change and addressing global issues, particularly those related to poverty, health, and education.

As a volunteer, I hope to leverage my skills, knowledge, and voice to contribute to impactful advocacy campaigns, raise awareness about key issues, and mobilize action towards sustainable solutions. I aspire to collaborate with like-minded individuals and organizations to influence policy decisions, promote equity and justice, and ultimately make a meaningful difference in the lives of people around the world.

Youth advocates Riyam and Bisman speaking with the Minister of International Development, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen (Nov 2023).
Riyam speaking with MP Fayçal El-Khoury at Results' #ChampionChildrenInEmergencies reception (November 2023).

Through my involvement with Results Canada, I aim to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, advocate for policy changes that prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable and contribute to building a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

Riyam’s vision for the world

To ensure children in emergencies can thrive, I believe we must prioritize education as a fundamental right, provide safe and inclusive learning environments, and deliver psychosocial support.

Additionally, robust child protection mechanisms must be established to safeguard children from exploitation and abuse, while investments in health, nutrition, and sanitation services are essential for their well-being.

Empowering communities to participate in decision-making processes and disaster preparedness efforts is crucial, alongside advocacy for policy change at all levels to drive resources and support.

Through these concerted efforts, we can create a future where children in emergencies not only survive but thrive, building resilience and realizing their full potential amidst adversity.

Riyam’s vision for herself

I'm happy to be back in school at the University of Manitoba, thanks to WUSC's support. I’m enthusiastic about lifelong learning. I believe that curiosity is the key to growth and fulfillment, so I'm always seeking out new opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills.

Whether it's through reading books, taking online courses, or engaging in meaningful conversations with others, I'm constantly striving to deepen my understanding of the world and contribute positively to the communities around me.

A message to current and aspiring advocates

Your advocacy is a powerful force for change, amplifying the voices of the most vulnerable and driving policy decisions that prioritize equity, justice, and human dignity. Remember that every action you take, every conversation you have, and every campaign you lead brings us one step closer to achieving our shared goal of ending extreme poverty.

Stay resilient, stay focused, and know that your advocacy is invaluable in creating a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Together, we can and will build a more just, equitable, and compassionate world for all.

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