'Excuse me if I cry': Ottawa community rallies around teen living on his own
OTTAWA -- Just a few months ago, Ahmed Meradjah never dreamed he would get a private tour of the Ottawa Redblacks' stadium, but on Tuesday that dream came to life.
“It’s kind of given us a look of how I would like to be in the future,” the 16-year-old said.
His childhood was different from that of most kids. He grew up in Ottawa’s Herongate neighbourhood with very little.
“We didn’t grow up with much,” he said. “It’s good sometimes for some people to grow up here, it teaches them to be humble and grateful for everything they have.”
Then, he lost his mother to cancer. He has been living alone for months.
“The resilience, the adversity, you know there’s really strength in the character of this young man,” said Justin Howell, a defensive back with the Ottawa Redblacks.
Losing his mother is something Ahmed is still struggling with, three years later.
“We were best friends, like no other relationship,” he said.
When she died, Ahmed was left to fend for himself.
Ahmed’s former coach, Paul Howard, said the teen found an apartment online and slept alone on the floor.
“He was hungry. He was sleeping on the floor with a small mattress, a pillow and a blanket and he wasn’t complaining,” Howard said.
Howard is a football coach connected to the NFL. He launched a GoFundMe page for Ahmed’s schooling. It’s already raised more than $25,000.
“Somebody offered him one year of university paid off anywhere in the United States or Canada, so excuse me if I cry. It’s just incredible,” he said.
Ahmed loves the game, with football a constant dream.
“He loves playing football, being a part of football, and he wants to do football as a career going forward in college, so any ways we can try to help in that process we’ll do our best,” said Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice.
“With that kind of a formation and a little bit of guidance, you know being able to apply that, he could be a monster in a very short amount of time,” said Alex Mateas, a Redblacks offensive lineman.
Ahmed wants to thank everyone in Ottawa who has helped him.
He says he’ll continue to push on to honour his mother.
“It means so much and I’m really just grateful for all of the support.”