A journey from trauma to hope
Aurum Awards 2021: Ayat El-Dewary (BA’04)
By Mark Campbell | Photos provided
It was a journey that Ayat El-Dewary (BA’04) was not sure she would survive. Displaced from Kuwait during the first Gulf War in 1990, her parents—both Egyptian expats—travelled for weeks by car to Iraq and then Jordan before securing a flight on a warplane to Cairo.
“It was horrifying to say the least,” recalls El-Dewary, who was seven years old at the time. “I saw first-hand the work of the humanitarians on the ground. Based on what I went through with my family, I immediately knew my purpose in life was to serve others.”
More specifically, El-Dewary knew she wanted to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2011, she fulfilled that childhood ambition. As the Representative ad interim, El-Dewary oversees the office leading partnerships with the Qatar government and the private sector to raise funds, mobilize resources and develop advocacy strategies. Her work contributes to making a difference in the lives of displaced individuals globally. And her efforts have helped raise over $200 million USD from donors and partners. She also twice secured the largest-ever contributions from a single donor in the UNHCR’s 70-year history.
“By cultivating partnerships and relationships with donors, the displaced populations we serve have received much needed support and essential needs, such as health care, shelter and cash grants,” El-Dewary says. “The difference these contributions make is heart-warming and it encourages me to find more innovative ways to engage donors and ensure that refugees remain a priority.”
El-Dewary has also made a difference in the lives of refugees studying at Dalhousie University through a bursary fund she initiated. “The bursary was a way to honour the university—how it shaped my world views and helped me understand what I wanted to do in life and where I needed to be,” she explains. “I did it for two years, using some savings. I would like to continue doing something like this.”
It is her efforts to help those who are displaced as she once was that have earned El-Dewary an Aurum Award. However, the news came as something of a surprise for her. “I find it hard to speak about my work, to be honest. I just feel it is my responsibility to do what I can for others who are less fortunate. I am incredibly honoured and humbled by the award. It means even more to be recognized by my alma mater.”
From dreams to goals
Ultimately, it is the fundamental goodness of the people who surround her and humanity that continually inspire El-Dewary to make a difference. And she sees more opportunities to have an impact, such as instilling her values and commitment to positive change in her children.
“Nelson Mandela once said, ‘There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living,’” she says. “As a woman and a woman of colour, I dream of a just, equal and humane world for all. I will continue to live my life accordingly and I vow to do whatever I can to achieve this goal, not only for my generation, but for many generations to come.”