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Syrian coder shares his knowledge with other newcomers

Maritime Labs participants practise English as they learn programming skills

3 min read
caption Mohammed Zaher Abd Ulmouli shows off some Java code he’s written.
caption Mohammed Zaher Abd Ulmouli shows off some Java code he’s written.

Mohammed Zaher Abd Ulmouli is helping newcomers adapt to living in Canada in the best way he knows: by teaching them to code.

Abd Ulmouli, who is completing a master’s degree in computer science at Dalhousie University, will help teach a series of computer workshops called Maritime Labs starting Nov. 18. This is the third time the workshops have been held. The first series was in summer of 2016 and the second in spring of 2017.

Abd Ulmouli came to Canada as a refugee from Syria in May 2016. While in Syria, he says, he completed a degree in Information Engineering, which taught him about computer programming.

“(Computer science) is what we know,” he says, “It gives us an opportunity to pay back to the community (and) do something that, I hope, is helpful.”

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The workshops, which run every Saturday for five weeks, are targeted toward refugees, although anyone is welcome. Participants can learn basic computer skills and how to code for Android using Java. Teachers from Dalhousie’s College of Continuing Education also help newcomers with their English.

Maritime Labs is organized by the Dalhousie Syrian Student Society, in collaboration with Dalhousie Computer Science. It was founded by Abd Ulmouli’s cousin, society president Yaser Alkayale.

caption Abd Ulmouli wants participants to improve their coding and computer literacy skills.

Abd Ulmouli says taking computer science in university is beneficial for newcomers because it can help them get a job after graduation. He adds that understanding the structure of a programming language can help students see that same structure when they practise English.

“It’s something familiar,” he says. “So if you can understand (one thing), you can understand (the other).”

Hassan Alzamel, a first year computer science student at Saint Mary’s University, came to Canada in January 2016. He attended Maritime Labs in the spring and plans to go again this month.

caption Hassan Alzamel was introduced to computer science through Maritime Labs.

Alzamel says the workshops not only introduced him to computer science, but inspired him to take it at school. For him though, the workshops weren’t only about learning to code.

“It’s more than just computer science,” he says. “It’s social relationships with people, it’s English, it’s science in general, it’s (the) basic idea about university.”

Abd Ulmouli says the content of the workshops is always changing based on what the participants are looking to learn. He says that if participants have questions about university or the future, he and his colleagues are happy to help.

However, for Abd Ulmouli, the workshops’ impact goes beyond just teaching computer literacy skills. It’s also the relationships that are created.

“They are not just students that came and attended,” he says. “They are our friends.”

The Maritime Labs 2017 Cohort for newcomers runs every Saturday from Nov. 18 to Dec. 16 in the Goldberg Computer Science Building at Dalhousie University.

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  1. C


    Great story. Well organized and relevant!
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