Forced to flee his home not once, but twice has not stopped a South Sudanese refugee from pursuing higher education in Egypt.
Clad in a white shirt decorated with scarlet red and fiery orange patterns, Dawood Mayom scanned the aisles of books at his university’s library before hand-picking his next read: Public Policy Analysis and Program Evaluation.
Born in what is now known as South Sudan, Dawood was the youngest of seven siblings whose mother was desperate to protect after the outbreak of the second Sudanese civil war and the killing of their father. In the early 1990s, the family made it to Jabarona Camp for internally displaced people near the Sudanese Capital of Khartoum, where they stayed for nearly eight years.
“The hardest thing about living in a camp was the lack of a clear vision of where life was heading,” he said. “Having to depend on yourself and not having a father to go to and ask for support. This was all very painful.”
Indeed, born into a family deprived of education and who saw little meaning in feeding the mind when the stomach was growling with hunger, Dawood had to convince his mother to let him attend the camp school. Endowed with the persuasive power of children, his unwavering habit of watching other children walk to school everyday eventually tugged at her heart.
At the age of nine, Dawood’s family was able to move to Khartoum where he was finally able to attend school regularly. Although the setbacks he faced as a child meant that he would have to make up for missed years of school, he was up to the challenge and managed to graduate from high school and enroll in university.
However, in his freshman year Dawood was to experience forced displacement for the second time when he had to flee Sudan and seek safety in Egypt.
“As a human being, being displaced is the worst ever experience, one which separates a person from his loved ones,” said Dawood. “I felt shaky in both incidents. The only difference is that the first time I was with my family and my mom was my biggest supporter. In Cairo, the situation was different and difficult. I was responsible for myself, and I had to find ways to build my future,” he added.
A quintessential hard worker, no hill was too steep for Dawood to climb. He started involving himself in volunteering activities in his community, teaching Sudanese and South Sudanese children maths and Arabic. In 2010, he enrolled in a distance-learning law degree at Cairo University, one of Egypt’s oldest academic institutions.
In 2012, UNHCR announced a call for applications to its higher education scholarship programme, the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI), which enables access to higher education for refugee students in their country of asylum.
Since its inception in 1992, DAFI has grown considerably, enabling more than 13,500 refugee students to study at universities and colleges in 50 countries of asylum.
For Dawood, this was the opportunity he was looking for to pursue a full-time bachelor’s degree in economics amid lack of funding. However, when he learned that the number of applicants was 97, of whom only seven would be selected, he was discouraged.
“One day I received a phone call inviting me to an interview. It gave me a confidence boost and I thought I actually had a chance,” Dawood said. “But it was hard because I had to convince the panel I was the best candidate, when we were all refugees who had suffered similar circumstances,” he added.
Following a series of interviews, Dawood was one of the seven refugees who were awarded the scholarship.
Upon receiving the news, Dawood felt that his dreams were finally within reach. However, he could not escape one particular thought, “how many refugees, experiencing the same circumstances, were looking for the same opportunity to build their dreams,” he said.
“I took an oath not only to study but to succeed, because this could have been another refugee’s chance and I did not want my colleagues to think that I wasted it,” he added.
Delivering on his promise to himself and his friends, Dawood graduated from the Faculty of Economics at 6th October University in 2016 with high honours, becoming a holder of a dual degree in economics and law.
His academic performance and record of volunteering later enabled him to become a recipient of a master’s degree fellowship at the American University in Cairo (AUC), where he currently studies Public Policy.
Since the start of the conflict in 2013, some 2.4 million people have fled South Sudan as refugees and over 1.8 million are internally displaced inside the country. Currently, there are over 13,000 South Sudanese refugees and asylum-seekers registered in Egypt.
Being in their shoes, Dawood is aware of the aspirations of young refugee students. This is why he devotes time to support them with their education through mentoring and guidance.
“If it were not for the DAFI scholarship, I would not be where I am today; pursuing a master’s degree at AUC,” he said.