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Back on Track student Amani has successfully completed her Master's Degree


From the notorious Moria camp to LSE campus, there were countless hurdles to overcome. Thanks to women’s collaboration; by the help of SAO Association and many other women, I could join the world-class research environment of the London School of Economics (LSE) and succeed.


Briefly, my education was stalled for eleven years since the war in Syria started. Throughout these years, I have always been in a research mode searching for life, refuge, peace, safety, recognition, acceptance, and my educational goal. Sometimes, I had to risk my life; walk mountains and wild forests, cross the sea and borders.


After years of seeking refuge in different countries, I ended up in the notorious Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos, Greece. I, like all other women in the camp, was dreaming of a better life for myself. Fortunately, I came to Greece with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and became interested in how these refugee women would find rewarding work in an unfamiliar environment. Despite the severe conditions in the camp and the hopeless economic circumstances in Greece, my passion for education had not wavered, but grown more profoundly.


Thanks to the help I had received as a beneficiary at the Bashira Centre, I could – first as a volunteer and later as an employed translator – improve my personal situation and I was so able, to support other displaced women. This kept me resilient until I joined LSE with the help of SAO to continue my higher education.


During the years that my education was interrupted, the academic world had leapt forward as I struggled to cover my basic human needs. When I joined LSE, I had not only to work hard to compensate for all that I had missed but also was I challenged by having to study remotely in an unfamiliar country. I lost the computer skills that I had acquired in Syria because I had never used a computer for eleven years. Indeed, when I applied for LSE, I did not even have a computer. I found myself totally alone in an academic battle while the external environment was toxic enough with COVID-19 and everyone was struggling for social support.


The hardest part in this experience was actually accepting that I was not as tech-savvy as other students. The system with its various elements including the content of courses, teaching and examination methods was all intense. In the first semester, I was spending all day studying but I was still slow in proceeding unlike me eleven years ago. That was on the ego level enormously devastating. It made me feel incompetent for the programme and I could hear a voice inside me saying: I should quit.


However, I knew that the decision to quit was going to be a band aid solution. I would be emotionally more devastated if my resignation affected the future decisions of LSE in accepting other refugees. Whereas my success would very likely co-create the life that other refugees were tirelessly seeking for. My resignation would also be more devastating because I would upset everyone who had supported me to get that opportunity. My failure would ultimately mean that my academic dream would ever remain so. The learning difficulties and magnitude of the responsibility made me develop a radical psychological pressure that I had never before experienced.


Before Christmas 2020, when I was about to give up everything, I really realised the benefits of SAO's Back on Track programme - I could count not only on the financial support, but also on the moral and practical: I was comforted, encouraged and SAO provided me with a wonderful mentor in Thomas Kurer (University of Zurich), who actively supported and advised me until graduation.


I had to tolerate eleven months of continuous pressure in order to experience a moment of success. I actually forgot all about the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion when I received my final marks. It was never about the marks, but more about me being responsible for others’ future. I felt proud because I performed my part for other refugees, satisfied my supporters and achieved my dream.


While writing my masters' thesis, I developed a new academic aspiration. Immediately after folding the masters experience, I started searching for another academic challenge. My intention to become a doctoral student evolved spontaneously. Again, obstacles remain imposed in the way not least in terms of finding a new educational institution that looks at my determination and academic success rather than my financial capacity.


At this point, I would ask all educational institutions to capitalise by educated individuals, not on them. Do not contribute to the misuse of refugee capital and turn education to be a matter of luck, fortune, nation, or policy. And be aware, just like I was, whatever we do, it will have an impact on other people’s lives. Let your impact be positive.


My heartfelt thanks go to SAO, who have guided me through this tough time with advice and support, and to the solidarity of donors who make it possible for talented but destitute women to follow their academic path.


More about Back on Track: sao.ngo/back-on-track

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