Police officer’s tournament helps raises funds for Hope Academy
On a rainy Saturday in Alta Vista, young men wearing T-shirts reading Hope Academy fill a high school gymnasium with shouts, cheers and the squeak of athletic shoes.
The basketball tournament at Ridgemont and St. Patrick’s high schools is the most recent of Const. Mahamud Elmi’s fundraising events to build an English-language school in his hometown Bursalah, Somalia. What started as an idea that occurred to Elmi after a trip to Somalia in 2008 is getting close to becoming a reality, with the land purchased and construction underway with the help of Elmi’s ability to mobilize his large circle of friends, coworkers, family and members of the Ottawa Somali community.
“It’s very difficult, of course. It’s tough. It’s challenging. There are a lot of obstacles,” Elmi says. “But at the same time, it’s doable. It can be done.”
Those words could sum up much of Elmi’s life. After fleeing Somalia at the age of 10 for a Kenyan refugee camp, he eventually made his way to Ottawa to join his aunt and her family. He became an Ottawa police officer in 2006 and is the constable assigned to Ridgemont.
His return to Somalia in 2008 left a deep impression on him, and he came back to Ottawa determined to help the many families who can’t afford to send their children to school. He set a goal of opening the doors in September of 2012 and says he’s on track to achieve it.
“I think we’ll be successful. We’ll get our goal, I think, by the year 2012.”
Yusuf Mohamed, a youth worker at Ottawa’s Somali Centre and an assistant basketball coach at Ridgemont, says he’s not surprised. The small army of basketball players soaking their Hope Academy T-shirts with sweat are a testament to Elmi’s ability to organize and inspire, he says.
“I love him to death. He’s one of those guys who when he say’s he’s going to do something, he’s actually going to do it. He’s not going to stop until he sees through with it.”
The tournament is in its second year, and Elmi says he plans to make it an annual event that will continue to provide funds for the school once it opens. He’s raised about $25,000 so far, which he says is about half of what he needs to get it off the ground.
Elmi’s brother is in Somalia coordinating construction efforts on the ground. He has an investor, businessman Steve Lerner, who has committed to paying for teachers’ salaries and school uniforms for two out of the planned five classrooms.
There’s still a lot of work to be done before that, however. Back at the tournament, Elmi’s wife Amoune Omer keeps the players well fed with an impressively large snack bar menu, with aluminum containers full of rice, chicken, samosas and sandwiches cooked and donated by Somali elders.
The couple has a two-yearold and another child on the way, but Omer says they haven’t let that slow them down.
“Last time, we did softball and I was seven months pregnant,” she says. “Kids are the future. We try to make sure that they have the same opportunities they have here in Canada .”
Participants Mohamed Ali and Haider El Badry say Elmi used to be their high school basketball coach and they were happy to play again. “Our money’s going to something good,” says Carleton student El Badry, 22. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Photograph by: Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen