UCL News


Over the last 3 years UCL students have raised £800,000 for Syrian refugees. Yahya Abu Seido tells us how they did it

31 October 2017

Yahya Abu Seido a fourth year medical student at UCL, is the former President of the Friends of Palestine Society, and the co-founder of

Empowerful satifs.com/empowerful3/" target="_self">Empowerful, now in its third year.

While he was studying for his A levels, Yahya had volunteered with a charity called Human Care Syria. When he was in his first year at UCL, they got in touch again to ask if he could recruit 10 students from UCL to come along to a fundraising dinner.

At the end of the dinner, there was a call for those in attendance to pledges. Inspired by the speakers they had been listening to, and the stories they had shared, the UCL students pledged to raise £5,000 between them.

Coincidentally, Mohamed Zeyara, a speaker and campaigner with whom Yahya was already in contact, happened to be speaking in London. Zeyara grew up in Gaza, but is now based in Canada. He has 1.6 million followers on Facebook, and 60,000 followers on Twitter. Yahya seized his opportunity, went along to the event, and secured Zeyara as a keynote speaker for an event he was planning to hold in January, to help the students to achieve their fundraising target.

That event, an 'evening of inspiration', didn't raise £5,000. It raised £95,000 - almost 20 times the original target.

It was out of this astonishingly successful initial fundraising event that Empowerful was born. Now in its third year, the initiative, which is co-organised by the UCL Friends of Palestine and Satifs, an organisation which drives social change amongst young people, has raised an incredible £800,000.

Empowerful women

Empowerful 1 raised £71,900 for Palestinian refugees, Empowerful 2 raised £232,000 for Syrian refugees, but for Empowerful 3, Yahya wanted to do something a bit more innovative.

Last July, Yahya travelled to Jordan with the charity Human Relief Foundation. He says: 'I wanted to actually see the impact on the ground of the money I had raised. I saw that money converted directly into food packs, and I visited Syrian refugees and heard their stories. I finally felt that I was meeting the people I was helping, and I wanted to extend that opportunity to everyone who has worked so hard to make Empowerful such a great success. I felt like this is what Empowerful was missing, a true relationship between us and the people we want to help, and so I knew exactly what to do.'.

Empowerful 3, which was held on 21 October, began by introducing a range of young speakers and entertainers who seek to empower the audience with their stories and their dreams. Yahya hosted the event, as he did with the previous ones, and the speakers began sharing their stories. A range of issues were covered; the importance of mental health and looking after oneself, to stories about how Zeyara built a village in Mali, to songs about Syria and Palestine that were performed by Khaled Siddiq, to poetry from Aya, a Syrian who spoke about what it meant to be Syrian. The event was a build up, which eventually led to an audience that felt extremely inspired to want to do something, it was then announced by Yahya and Ismail (Co-Founders) that anyone who pledged, and raised, £10,000 will be able to travel to Jordan and deliver the money in person to refugees. Within a few minutes, £501,000 had been pledged.

Yahya adds: 'We are now working to support everyone who pledged to achieve their targets. And we are planning a trip to Jordan next August to deliver the money we raise to those people who desperately need it'.

One of the main reasons why Yahya has focussed so much of his energy and time on helping refugees, is because he himself comes from a refugee family. His grandparents were displaced from Gaza during the conflict that took place with Israel, and they lost their homes and had to build their lives afresh. Yahya still has family in Gaza, and feels obliged to help those who need it. Yahya also adds: When we Palestinians were going through our hell, the Syrians welcomed us with open arms. Even though the Palestinian crisis is not over yet, I as a privileged Palestinian living here in the UK feel obliged to do what I can to help them. We are all one people, and the Syrian refugee crisis is by far the worst.

If you would like to get involved with Empowerful and make a pledge, contact Yahya via email on yahya.abu-seido.14@hotmail.com because it's not too late.