One of my most long awaited and happiest days of the past few years, or perhaps, in my entire life has just, only just passed! On Thursday 19th January, 2012, students, friends, relatives, lecturers of Derby University and other honorary guests were invited to the graduation
ceremony of the 2011 graduates! I was happy, or rather excited to be among the first division of the University of Derby’s School of Education, Health and Science whom names where announced and escorted to the stage to receive their award. An A4 sized paper, which stated, among other details, my name, the title of my degree (Joint Honours – Bachelor of Science: International Relations and Global Development and Third World Development) my grade (upper second class) and my institutions name was handed over to me, and that handover constituted an end to an uphill battle. An end to three years of unrest and many sleepless nights. It was, as the Vice Chancellor said “A culmination of hard work and persistence” shown by the stars of that day – the students!! Those three years has tested the ultimate capacity of my patience, and I too, tested myself and promised that I will not retreat under any circumstances!
I simply considered all obstacles and challenges in my way during those three years as a stepping stone to help me cross or a ladder helping me to ascend. In short, three years ago, I was at the bottom of a huge and frightful mountain, and yesterday I felt, and indeed it was, as if I was at its peak! All done, and that task is now behind! Those three years were full of ups and downs, full of great moments of excitement and sadness, full of enjoyment and anxiety!
Right from the beginning, I was truly aware of the fact that choosing a goal and sticking to it changes everything. I was conscious of the fact that obstacles are, as Henry Ford once said, ‘those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal’. Using that backdrop, I decided to challenge everything that came my way, starting from my obvious disability (visual impairment) and its subtle stereotypical and socially constructed disabling perceptions against the visually impaired; to the obvious studying pressures and everything in between. In short, I was fully aware of the major conceptual and contextual difference between “Disability” and “Inability” and the stumbling block that prevents people to move forward is not the first, but the latter. I remembered every day, and every moment, that all successful people are, as Brian Tracy said, ‘big dreamers who can imagine what their future could be, ideal in every respect, and then work every day toward their distant vision, goal or purpose’.
However, there were also great moments which cannot slip away from my mind. Those three years have taught me a lot, and also took me in different directions throughout the world. I went to Geneva, Switzerland, not to open up one of those arguably ‘infamous free tax secret accounts’ but to learn and explore! In five days we examined how the major UN and non-UN bodies work. We visited the headquarters of The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and more importantly, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), an organisation which has, throughout the years, earned a great reputation as the ‘conscience of the world’! I cannot forget to mention the fact that my visit to the UNHCR evoked my old memories of when I, as a young lad, lived in a refugee camp sponsored and supported by the UN Refugee Commission under the leadership of Sadaca Ogata, that former Japanese icon of its days. Other students had doubtlessly taken the opportunity as an educational trip but for me it was utterly different. I did not take the moment at its face value. My feeling were well beyond the event. I have paused, reflected and recalled my plight of the old days, and acknowledged the conundrum of millions of displaced people who currently live under hard conditions similar to those I went through myself.
During those years, I have also packed my bags to the small West African State of Gambia, the smiling coast of Africa. They call it so! My journey was not to take advantage of the cheap life there or to join the flocks of the European tourists attracted to the Gambia by its three Ss – sun, sand, and the immoral third one – the smile. Put it in that way. We examined how people live with poverty, and more importantly, how their situation can be improved. We observed the glamorous and luxurious life of a small number, mainly tourists, and the life of the extremely poor masses. Tourists spend $10 to $15 on a normal meal per night, whilst the latter sustain their lives in less than a $1 per day and the country falls well behind the United Nations 2015 Millennium Development Goals. In short, it was one of those moments where I compellingly felt that the phrases of “humanity”, “equality” and “dignity” had blatantly lost their meaning! However, during those years, and during my various educational trips, I have met lots of different people, learnt about their cultures, visited lots of different places and met many great students from around the world, who, in my view, will remain great friends of mine in many years to come.
Before I conclude this piece, I must take the opportunity to unveil one more vital thing. Many people have been, in one way or the other, a great an indispensable part of my achievement. The list of those people, whom I consider, without their involvement, my dream wouldn’t be realised include my wife, Sagal Abdirahman, who tirelessly fought and stood beside me during and before those years, Harun Oday, my father, a veteran retired accountant who, at an early age of my life had planted the value of education in my mind, Amina Aw Muhumed, my mother, the mother of patience and persistence, Rebecca Royle, Louise Williams and Dave Sheridan of the Queen Alexandra College, who respectively have in 2004 introduced me to the basics of English, Information Technology through Screen Reading Programmes and the Braille codes. I truly owe a great debt to them.
Furthermore, I cannot forget the city of Sheffield, or as I sometimes call it ‘The City of Sanctuary’! A city that has opened up its heart to me; a city that has brought me in from the cold when I first arrived here a decade ago as an asylum seeker; a city that has made me feel at home. I cannot forget its public service institutions – The Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Castle College, and in particular the Sensory Impairment Team of the Social Services and the great men and women who, without preferences, unreservedly deliver services to those in need. Jill Thompson, Ali Antony and Norman Creighton, are some of them. The Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind (SRSB), an organisation which I’m proud to be a member of, and its chief, Mr Steve Hambleton. Last but not least, another institution which earns a lion’s share of my gratitude and appreciation is the University of Derby. All men and women that have contributed to my learning process, in one way or the other, have special place in my heart. I wish to express my sincere thanks first to Allah, the Almighty, and to the individuals and institutions I mentioned here and all those others I forgot to mention. I say ‘Thank you all’!