Mohamad Mahmoud Kassab (left) and Ahmad Jameel Abdullah: Grateful duo Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Inspirational stories of students who overcame formidable challenges to achieve their dreams, thanks to UAE-based Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE), have surfaced as the world marks International Youth Day (August 12).

Palestinian expat Mohamad Mahmoud Kassab was on the threshold of the education he dreamed of, when his father died unexpectedly in 2014, when Kassab was only 18 years old. Suddenly, he was confronted by the reality of having to find the money to pay for his younger brother’s school fees, for the rent on the house where his family lived, and the rent on the shop where his father had worked repairing digital television receivers and other equipment.

Kassab, now 25, recalled his father was the ‘silent type’ and had never taken him to his small shop in the UAE. “It took me five hours to find it,” said Kassab (who used to live in Lebanon before coming to the UAE). And it took him much longer to learn the business of stripping down complicated electrical equipment and discovering how the systems worked. He needed to learn how to manage the business too – and he did.

Budding engineer

Out of the circuit boards and switches grew the idea of a degree in electrical engineering, which he is now close to completing at the American University of Sharjah. He has been helped and guided by AGFE, and is now contemplating a Masters’ degree in machine learning. His next goal is running his own small business to help the UAE tackle the problem of sustainable energy and water, a key item on the UAE’s own agenda and a critical issue across the Middle East.

“Having a higher degree increased my ability to stand out from the crowd. Completing my higher education seemed impossible to me back in 2014 when my father passed away. After seven years, I am a few days away from completing my degree requirements. Being financially underprivileged is not a barrier to success; it is a motivation to excel,” Kassab said.

Close support

AGFE helped him with a full scholarship for the degree course and also assisted him to stay on and complete a major internship for his degree in the UAE, after the COVID-19 pandemic had barred him from returning to Lebanon. The foundation also provided him interview related guidance to secure a full scholarship for his Masters.

“AGFE gave me the opportunity to continue my higher education, which would not have been possible without their support. It is a life changing opportunity,” he said.

‘Better future for everyone’

Sonia Ben Jaafar, CEO of AGFE, said: “Here at the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, we’re not just investing in people, in individuals. We’re investing in the skills that this region needs to go forward into a better future for everyone, not least the huge number of young people out there who don’t have jobs.”

AGFE is currently funding a number of scholarships for men and women across the region to develop talent who can meet the 21st century demands of an every-changing labour market.

Looking for bread

Also in the Middle East, in Yemen, getting the daily bread in Ahmad Jameel Abdullah’s neighbourhood was anything but routine. The bakeries had shut down because fuel and flour had vanished in the conflict there. The only place that had bread was far away, but there was no petrol for the family car. So Abdullah fixed his bike and cycled there to stand in line, buy bread, and take it home.

His family was delighted, but Abdullah realised his neighbours still had no bread or the transport to get to places that still sold it. “So I got everyone in the community and said, ‘let’s reopen a bakery of our own’. I drew up a sort of management plan with tasks for everyone,” he said. Some went searching for wood to fire the ovens; others managed to get flour.

It worked. The neighbourhood’s daily bread was secured.

Studying in the UK

Fast forward a few years, Abdullah, now 30, has dreams of fixing his country’s power supply by introducing renewable energy schemes such as solar power to fire up the country’s recovery. He is currently a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) scholar with AFGE, pursuing his Master of Science degree in sustainable energy at University of Edinburgh in the UK.

“I hope to complete a PhD and make a change in my country by alleviating Yemen’s escalating electricity crisis to improve the quality of life and revive the economy,” he said.

Value of education

His education has been critical to his outlook. “The Arab region has a great deal of potential in the renewable energy sector and all other life aspects. However, such potential can’t be exploited without the ambition of young, hard-working – and most importantly – well-educated Arabs.”

University has opened his eyes to the world, Abdullah said, adding: “I learned how to effectively propose and model solar energy projects for my home country. I also received excellent job offers through a strong university and scholarship network. Finally, I was exposed to amazing cultural experiences by working alongside innovative and hardworking multinational master’s students from every corner of the world.”

Speaking about his experience with AGFE, Abdullah said: “I have received unlimited support from the AGFE team before, during and after my programme. Owning to the motivation I received, I managed to graduate top of my class in a very demanding programme. Being awarded AGFE Scholars Programme is a one-in-a-million opportunity.”