Hargeisa, 26 June 2009 (Somalilandcurrent) – When 13-year-old Ifrah Hashi’s family moved back to Somaliland from Canada, she noticed many young girls couldn’t read. She knew she had to do something.

So she gathered all her favourite books as a child, invited the girls to her backyard and read them stories.

“They loved the stories,” said Hashi, now 18. “They had never heard of things I had grown up hearing about, like Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood.”

At school she recruited a couple of friends and with their help started teaching the young girls how to read.

The group, Reading Sisters, still exists today even though Hashi has since moved back to Canada to attend school. With the help of the school librarian at Oakridge secondary school, where she graduated this month, she has book drives throughout the year and sends the books back home.

Hashi is one of 13 London students who won a federal millennium scholarship, ranging from $25,000 to $4,000.

Hashi, who will go to the University of Western Ontario in the fall, won a $20,500 scholarship.

“I was really honoured to have won,” she said.

Hashi said returning to Somaliland, a self-declared independent region in the Horn of African ravaged by civil war, was a life-changing experience.

“It was nothing like I’d ever been used to in Canada,” she said.

Her family started a microcredit organization, which provides interest-free loans between $30 and $50 to widows with children so they can start their own company.

Many widows buy a wheelbarrow to transport things, hence the organization’s name Barrows of Hope. Others buy pans to wash clothes or chickens to sell eggs.

“Seeing the way some people live there was really heartbreaking and I felt I had to do something about it,” said Hashi, who is the secretary for Barrows of Hope and hopes to be a teacher one day. “I was always aware of things going on in the world and I like to reach out to others in their time of suffering . . . my parents raised me to be socially conscious of people less fortunate than us.”

Other London millennium scholarship winners are national winners Jasmine Irwin and Nikhita Singh, who both got $25,000 scholarships; provincial winners Younjei Chung, Alison Greaves, Radha Joseph and Nicole Turner, with $20,500 scholarships and local winners Jennifer Aziz, Alyssa Craik, Diana Montano-Rubio, Jasmine Stapleford, Thomas Sullivan and Julia Tsaltas, who each won $4,500 scholarships. Some 9,000 people applied for the scholarships.

Source: The London Free Press