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Why Give | Impact stories

Lina Zdruli: VRefugees, an empathy building tool

For Syrian refugees escaping to the west, migrating across the Mediterranean Sea is a life or death circumstance, with no certainty of arriving on welcoming shores.

Capturing this perilous journey in virtual reality has been the work of UBC alumna Lina Zdruli, with her VRefugees project. When viewers don the Oculus headset, they are suddenly put in the place of seven refugees crossing from Syria into Europe. This immersive experience into the plight of refugees is purposeful.

“The goal of VRefugees is to basically be like an empathy-building tool,” says Lina. “The Mediterranean is the world’s deadliest route for migrants, which has, on average, a 60-70 percent rate of deaths among migrants. What I was trying to do is gather an understanding from the average migrant person’s perspective of how dangerous migration actually is. People wouldn’t subject themselves — or their family — to this unless what they were leaving was far worse.”

Donors played a key role in Lina’s own journey at UBC. She was the recipient of several awards, including the Outstanding Leader in the UBC Community and Beyond award from the Dean’s list in the Faculty of Arts. Donor-supported awards helped her travel to Dubai to participate in youth leadership training during her fourth year, as well as to take on an internship in Bonn, Germany, at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

“Thanks to donors, I was able to take on life-changing experiences because, as a student, it is often financially challenging to take on these types of opportunities.”

Lina Zdruli has moved on to other successes. She has her other project, Dafero, a startup consumer goods company that makes healthy sweets with no sugar added for healthy low glycemic snacks. Dafero also has a social impact focus — with proceeds directed to help create courses and programs to guide refugees and trafficked women on their path to self-reliance. Lina has final words for donors supporting UBC students.

“I would say thank you for changing my life and also believing in me. It’s one thing to have the grades as a quantifiable measure of success, but very different from having someone look at your application and say: ‘I believe in you.’”