Once a refugee himself, Ali Saeed has helped 104 refugees himself. Now, he's partnering with a local church to continue his good work.

Ali Saeed is originally from Ethiopia, but for the last 30 years has called Winnipeg his home. It wasn't his choice to leave his home though. He became a refugee after being imprisioned for political reasons.

"I started advocating for the most basic human rights," Saeed remembered. "I joined the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP) . . . I [became] a target and was arrested and tortured."

He was left in jail for five years before fleeing Ethiopia as a refugee. Saeed ended up walking more than 500 kilometres before arriving in Somalia, where he was arrested and tortured again. This time, he was also sentenced to death.

"Being a refugee is not a choice." - Ali Saeed

Saeed said that if he had known he was going to die when he fled to Somalia, he would have just stayed and died at home instead. That's why he is passionate about the plight of refugees, saying repeatedly that they do not have a choice. They wouldn't leave if they didn't have too.

Fortunately, Saeed did not die in Somalia. He was saved from death row.

"With the help of the Canadian government and especially a member of [River East Church], we came directly from a prison to Winnipeg."

In fact, Saeed arrived in Winnipeg barefoot, with absolutely nothing to his name. But he got right to work, studying Human Development at Red River College for two and a half years, before both him and his wife started a business baking a traditional Ethiopian bread, Injera.

That business, along with a huge heart, has allowed Saeed and his wife to help bring 104 refugees into Winnipeg. He has funded each one of them and lets them stay at his house when the first arrive.

"I'm very happy doing that," Saeed said. "We sometimes have 16 people, [my house] has five bedrooms."

Along with bringing refugees over, he's also helping out certain people back at home, including the mother of one of Saeed's friends, who was killed in the Somalian jail.

"It's my responsibility to help her," Saeed said with tears in his eyes.

Certain circumstances are changing the way Saeed is able to fund refugees. So he came back to the very first church that helped him out when he came over, River East Church. The congregation has a strong history of supporting refugees, which is fitting, because pastor Mary Anne mentioned that, as a Mennonite Church, their ancestors were all refugees as well.

Together with Saeed, River East has set up an account which Saeed and his family will put money into. Dan Block, one of the volunteers overseeing the account, says the idea is that, when all the paperwork for a refugee is finished, the account will have enough money to bring them into Canada and get them started.

It's also a fund that the church members can donate into, but Block says that it's primary purpose is to help Saeed continue to sponsor refugees.

"It's not too difficult to get involved," Block said about helping out a refugee. "Lots of people out there [can] tell you how specifically."

The connection between not only Block and Saeed, but also Saeed and the River East Church was evident. Saeed says that he is forever grateful to the church for helping him and accepting him, even though he doesn't have a Christian background.