Maram – Studious, determined and preparing for her future

A young woman talks to UNHCR Malta about her studies, her plans for the future, and advice for others on International Women’s Day.

Maram at MCAST where she is studying to be a pharmacy technician.

Maram walks up the stairs of MCAST to meet us next to her faculty, where she is pursuing a diploma as a pharmacy technician. From where we are standing, two buildings rise up higher than the rest but in line with each other; the mosque and the church; a fitting juxtaposition for the conversation we are about to have.

She is 22 years old and sports a nose ring, smart clothes and eyeliner which looks like it requires patienceand a steady hand to apply.  Originally from Eritrea, Maram’s family migrated to Saudi Arabia before she was born. The family then went to Norway when Maram was 15, and to Malta a year later. In a soft-spoken voice, Maram tells her story in fluent English, where influences of her six years in Malta are evident in certain nuances within her dialect.

Like many other students within the college, her goal in the foreseeable future is moving on to the next stage of education, and ultimately starting that career you have been longing to pursue. For Maram, that is furthering her studies at university to eventually work as a pharmacist. “I am interested in preparing and giving medicine,” she explains. Currently gaining experience through a placement at Mater Dei pharmacy, she lights up as she says how she loves meeting different people through the job.

Maram is part of the refugee-led NGO Spark15, who organize events in order to help people with similar backgrounds to her connect within the local community. Her need for activism was ignited through her own occasional bump-ins with intolerance, of which she is the target. But how bad is it on a day to day basis?

“I am facing a lot,” Maram nods. Although she has been in the college for four years now, she still cannot say that she has a friend who is Maltese. Her group of friends is limited to people from her community. When she just started MCAST four years ago, she was the only girl in the school wearing a hijab.

“When I was younger I didn’t have the confidence to speak up,” she said, saying that over the years, her confidence has grown, and she has more courage to stand up for herself. As the multicultural community within the school grew, Maram now feels more comfortable with other people from similar backgrounds in her class.

Nonetheless, sneering behind her back is frequent, and her learning of the Maltese language means that now she can understand exactly what othersare saying. Maram recalls a time when a teacher stood up for her, she points towards him as he passes us in the hall, and speaks highly of him remembering his kindness.

Having experienced life in Norway, Maram compares the two European countries, and, despite belonging to the same continent, Maram cannot correlate the two when it comes to integration.

“Norway is completely different to Malta when it comes to racism,” she said. “It is like the sky and the ground.” “How people treat you there is very different. In Norway, in one week, I felt that I was part of society, with neighbours and friends; I (even) had Norwegian friends. When I came here, I was surprised to be honest.” Schemes in Norway make it compulsory for migrants to learn Norwegian in order to help them find work and integrate. Malta only recently launched an integration framework aimed for the integration of migrants in Malta.

Echoing Eman’s words, Maram raises the difficulty to find a job when wearing a hijab, as well as being declined the possibility to rent a place because of your nationality. She also recalls her experience in the Hal Far camp, where she did not feel safe. “We always had to go to the bathroom with my brother, who would wait outside for us.”

Also like Eman, Maram sees her mother as a person of inspiration, along with human rights activist and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. “My mum always reminds me to be patient, especially with those who don’t like me,” she said. With her honesty and gentle nature shining through, the end of that sentence seems somewhat strange, and we find it hard to come up with a logical reason why anyone would despise Maram.

Asked for her own advice for people who may be going through similar situations, Maram says “do not give up, stand up for what you believe, continue education, speak up, and know your rights.”


This article originally featured in the Malta Independent on International Women’s Day 2018.