Oct. 16, 2023Print | PDF
During her first summer after graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University’s Human Rights and Human Diversity program, Ayaana Karim bid farewell to the university’s Brantford campus and travelled to Accra, Ghana, where she put her degree to use as a participant in the 76th World University Service of Canada International Seminar.
World University Service of Canada, or WUSC, is a youth-focused Canadian non-profit organization that provides access to education, as well as economic and empowerment opportunities, to overcome inequality across Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Karim was president of the Brantford campus chapter of WUSC, where she chaired the Brantford campus committee, organized events and, with the help of a $4 per student levy, welcomed a sponsored refugee student to Canada.
“I got to know Ayaana through the process of sponsoring a new student to attend Laurier,” recalls Anne-marie Joy Henry, program coordinator, global engagement, and staff liaison to the WUSC Brantford committee. “She was the person who became the go to for that new student, to help them access resources. She really went out of her way.”
Karim’s family are Indian refugees from Uganda who settled in the UK before moving to Canada in 2010. Her own family dynamics led her to study Human Rights and Human Diversity.
“I really wanted to understand why my family worked the way it did,” she says.
Karim says a key part of that understanding lay in examining the role of her own lived experiences in the context of societal power structures.
“The Human Rights and Human Diversity program opened a lot of opportunities for me by showing me so many different ways that I can help people,” says Karim.
That passion to help others, especially student refugees, brought her to WUSC and, ultimately, the WUSC International Seminar in Ghana.
Each year the WUSC International Seminar brings together exceptional young leaders with the aim of encouraging networking and knowledge sharing. Karim was one of 23 individuals selected to participate this year. She was among several other participants from Canada, but the event also included representation from Sri Lanka, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda and the host country, Ghana.
Participants completed research on the theme of “Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development” on the campus of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration.
“It was a nice campus to be on and everyone was really welcoming,” says Karim.
Karim focused on researching gender-based violence and its disproportionate impact on women.
“We were able to go to different NGOs like Social Enterprise Ghana and the Ghana Climate Innovation Centre, which focus on sustainability and providing women and girls with a means to make income and further their education.”
Her team presented its findings to more than 300 people in a hybrid seminar during their last week in Ghana.
“We found that a lot of it has to do with education,” says Karim. “The more educated men are, the less likely they are to practice violence. The more educated women are, the less likely they are to accept violence. That was the biggest takeaway from our research.”
It’s no surprise to Andrew Robinson, an associate professor in the Human Rights and Human Diversity program, that Karim is using her Laurier degree to make an impact globally.
“Travelling to Ghana is consistent with the way Ayaana has been taking advantage of the many opportunities Laurier provides its students,” says Robinson. “She is really building a strong resume."
Karim has now moved back to the UK preparing to apply for her master’s in human rights at Oxford University. She eventually wants to pursue a PhD focusing on human trafficking. Karim says she will use her experience at the WUSC International Seminar to inform her continuing education.
“It was an eye-opening experience that I'm very grateful for,” she says. “I got to travel and see different perspectives, see how other people live. It makes me grateful for a lot of things, as well as reflect on what we can do as a society to help other people.”
Karim recommends Laurier students investigate WUSC when seeking opportunities to get involved on campus.
“Don't be afraid to share your input,” she says. “Have the confidence that you have something to contribute, as well as something to learn from these experiences.”