Canada

From Somali refugee to college graduate, Marcus Askar achieves goal 20 years in the making

Marcus Askar graduated from Red River College after setting it as a goal 20 years ago when he came to Winnipeg. (Marcus Askar/Submitted)

When Marcus Askar arrived in Winnipeg in 1997 he made a list of goals for himself: get a job, get his wife and children to Canada, buy a house and be an active member of the community.

At age 50, he achieved one more of those goals this week — graduating from Red River College.

“It was a very big day, one of my biggest days in my life and one of my dreams become true and it was exciting and it was my graduation day,” he said. “All of my family was there and it was exciting and all my friends was there, too.”

Askar fled civil war in Somalia in 1991, sending his wife and children to Djibouti. But when Askar himself tried to join them, the country had closed its doors to refugees. So he travelled through six countries before finally landing in Winnipeg seven years later.

He got a job his first week in the city and for years he worked two or three jobs before he was eventually able to purchase a house and a car. After a long stretch apart, Askar achieved his next goal — his wife and children came to Canada.

Over the years, Askar has been an active member in the Somali community. He also sponsored other members of his family to come to Canada. Eventually, he also sponsored old friends, neighbours and classmates. So far, he has helped bring 147 people to Canada.

But all of that work meant that Askar didn’t have time to go back to school.

“Two jobs, three jobs and also I was helping all these people. Sometimes I was filling all their applications,” he said. “They would] call and ask for help. Most of them when they come from there they were in my house … Sometimes we were sleeping like spaghetti here.”

Two years ago, with support from his wife, children and the community, Askar finally enrolled at Red River College.

This week, at nearly 50 years old, he received his diploma for the community development/community economic development program.

“I put it on a piece of paper that I have to achieve this and the only place that’s possible is our beloved country Canada,” he said.

The crowd at the ceremony was filled with people whose lives Askar touched, some even coming all the way from British Columbia to celebrate.

When the ceremony was done, Askar said his son had a frame ready for the diploma.

Never too late

“They surprised me as soon as I come out of the graduation ceremony my son grabbed my certificate and he put it in a big beautiful [frame] that I can hang wherever I want,” Askar said. “They surprised me, too. I really enjoyed it.”

Askar said he hopes his story sends a message to people in the community — it’s never too late.

“[It’s] an example for them, not only for my children, for my family, but for my extended family and the community at large that everybody can go back to school at this age, or younger or older than I am,” he said.

“It was hard when you are into but when you put all your mind and muscle you know that you can go through,” he added.

Now, Askar said he wants to put even more back into the community that helped him achieve his goals.

“I would like to give back. That’s where my heart is and that’s my background, too,” he said.

“I am looking for where I could serve my community at large.”

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