British Columbia

After fleeing Egypt, Vancouver migrant aims to give back to refugees with coding

Omar Sabry fled his native Egypt in 2013 and made his way to Vancouver with almost nothing.

Omar Sabry came to Canada with nothing but 2 suitcases and a laptop

Alex Stickley (left) and Omar Sabry own horriblenoise, a Vancouver clothing company. Sabry wants to help refugees learn coding, a skill he credits for helping him get settled in Vancouver when he fled Egypt. (Ryan Rose)

When Omar Sabry first came to Canada, he had nothing but two suitcases and a laptop.

He fled his home country of Egypt during the political unrest of the Arab Spring in 2013. He made his way to Vancouver on the advice of a friend.

Sabry said it was a desperate time, but things started looking up when he signed up for a coding class at the University of British Columbia.

"It was a stressful time in my life. I remember having to make enough money to pay for [rent and school]," he told CBC's On The Coast on World Refugee Day.

"UBC had a program that was trying to give people who are slightly older a crash course into computer science and they try to connect you with job and employment opportunities. So I applied for that and I somehow got in."

When Omar Sabry first came to Canada, he was sleeping on the floor of a basement suite struggling to make ends meet. (Omar Sabry)

He slept on the floor of a basement during that time, paying tuition with his grandmother's help. 

As his passion for programming grew, he went from the floor to a full-time, well-paying job.

He met his business partner Alex Stickley on vacation some time later, and the pair founded a clothing company called "horriblenoise," based in Vancouver. 

Sabry said the skills he picked up in the UBC program — including how to create a website — have helped him as a businessowner.

Now, he wants to help give other refugees the same opportunity for education he had.

Sabry and Stickley are donating a month's worth of proceeds from their business to a charity called Re:Coded, which hosts coding bootcamps for refugees and displaced youth.

"I used to be in a similar position where I was unemployed in a collapsing country in the Middle East and I didn't really have skills that I could use," Sabry said. "So the idea of giving that skill to people in refugee camps just seems like a very good solution."

He said he also hopes to mentor young refugees some time in the future.

Listen to his full story below:

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast