17 Canadian University of Dubai students taking part in the campaign this year, 13 are girls and four are boys. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News

Dubai: “Five cats ate our food while we were sleeping,” said one of the students from the Canadian University of Dubai, who slept outdoors and depended on food handouts for five days, to experience the life of those who are underprivileged.

A total of 17 students from the university took part in the ‘Five Days for the Homeless’ charity, a campaign that originated in Canada by students who wanted to raise awareness and funds for the homeless.

As part of the campaign, participating students must remain on the campus for five days, sleep outdoors, only eat food handed to them, give up their cellphone, have no access to showers and facilities, have no income, avoid social media and write about their experience on an online blog, said Mary Alison Lyman, Student Services Manager at the university who is overseeing the charity.

She said, however, that sleeping outdoors is only mandatory for male students, while it is prohibited for the girls. “The girls’ main role is to raise awareness through blogging and funds,” she said.

Out of the 17 students taking part in the campaign this year, 13 are girls and only four are boys.

“The hardest part is sleeping outdoors; we are only allowed sleeping bags and a pillow, which makes no difference because it feels like we are sleeping directly on the floor. It was also cold and the sandstorm yesterday did not help,” said 17-year-old Nelson Egharevba, from Nigeria, who is studying E-business.

The funds, raised by the students, who put up signs asking for alms — similar to what the homeless do — will all go to the Emirates Red Crescent. So far Dh13,140 has raised on the third day of the campaign. The students aim to raise a total of Dh20,000.

“On the first day of the campaign, five cats ate all our food while we were sleeping! We did not have breakfast the next day and had to wait for food donations by students to eat,” Public Relation student Emmanuel Ojumiri, 26, said he participated in the challenge for the second year in a row.

“I wanted to participate because in 1999 there was a war in my country that left many of my people homeless. I felt taking part will help me give back to them,” he added.

Syrian student Sulaiman Dayoob, 18, who is studying architecture, said this experience made him feel for those who are underprivileged. “I won’t take simple things like having a shelter or food for granted ever again. My biggest challenge is not seeing my family for five days.”

Syrian Jude Kanawati, 21, who is also a public relation student, thought of a creative way to raise funds.

“I decided to play the violin to raise funds. I found that it did encourage more people to donate. As a Syrian, this campaign hits close to home because many Syrians lost their homes as a result of the war.”

A total of 25 Canadian universities are taking part in the campaign, with an estimated 64,000 students participating.

The Canadian University of Dubai took part in the campaign for four consecutive years.