The former president of the International Students’ Association has started a GoFundMe campaign to pay his last semester’s tuition to graduate and be able to stay in Canada.
Fifth-year secondary education student Akram Hammami is an international student studying at Campus Saint-Jean. He has created a GoFundMe to cover his last semester’s tuition, which totals $10,000. Hammami started the campaign after he exhausted his financial resources, including scholarships, bursaries, and family support. If he fails to secure funding he will have to return to Tunisia, as he is on a student visa.
The page opened on March 26 and has so far raised over $3,300 of its $10,000 goal.
Hamammi came to the University of Alberta from Tunisia in December 2013 and started school in January 2014. His family was involved in politics and he came to Edmonton after two family friends were assassinated. He originally wanted to apply as a refugee, but said Canada doesn’t consider Tunisia a dangerous country.
He’s also been involved in advocacy for international students. In addition to being president of the International Students’ Association in 2017-18, he served as the president of the African Students’ Association last year, as well as vice-president (international) in Campus Saint-Jean’s faculty association. He has also been involved in the World University Service of Canada, which brings refugee students to study at the U of A.
Hammami’s friends were the ones who convinced him to start the GoFundMe, he said, as he said he was reluctant to do it. However, he’s thankful to the people around him who have been sharing the campaign and donating. Some of his friends have even created a silent auction event on April 25 to raise more money, he added.
“I really can’t thank people enough for the support that they showed me, especially the ones that I know,” he said.
Hammami said he started the campaign after attempting to apply for bursaries and other forms of financial aid. One issue, he said, was that he wasn’t eligible for some bursaries as he was an international student.
He received a supplementary bursary from the university, but it was only enough to cover his first semester. His family back in Tunisia could not support him financially as they have in the past, and so he had exhausted his financial resources, he said.
With the recent increases to international student tuition, he said these kinds of situations will become more common. While some international students are well-off, not all international students are the same, he said.
“In a way, the university is just saying that we all fit into one box, that we are all the same, doesn’t matter where we come from, which is not true,” he said.
Hammami said he hopes to graduate on June 12, but that is contingent on his being able to pay his tuition for his last semester. His visa expires on July 31, but he hopes to apply for an open work permit and work for three years. During this time, he said he can apply for permanent residency and eventually citizenship.
He added that the university and the Students’ Union should have more bursaries for international students, and be more upfront with the cost of tuition.
“That’s why a lot of international students are not involved in student life […] because we get the feeling that we’re just fuel for conversation for just a year or two and then that’s it,” he said. “There’s no actual help, there’s no actual interest in our experiences as international students.”
After he graduates, Hammami said he hopes to teach for a couple of years and then apply for his masters, as he’d like to teach at a university.
“I really want to get the tuition paid so I can stay,” he said. “[Graduation] is the first step to get everything set up and ready.”