How two students at UEA are making an impact
Postgraduate Student: Abdul-Razak Yakubu
Abdul became interested in activism from a very early age. The mission of ‘making things better’ surrounded his childhood, with World Vision and various NGOs being as much a part of his community as the locals themselves in Tamale, in the Northern region of Ghana.
Growing up in northern Ghana presents many challenges to young people. It is under-developed, rural and heavily reliant on agriculture. It’s also an estimated 50 years behind southern Ghana, the urbanised, coastal region where many young people flee for a chance of income.
Abdul campaigns in Ghana to engage men and boys in supporting equal rights and respect for women
With his interests focused on gender activism; the rights of young girls and women; Abdul sought formal education with a Diploma and Bachelor of Arts in Business Studies. But this was not enough to make the progress he wanted to see in his country. He needed formal recognition.
Abdul said: “To achieve what I wanted to, I already had the experience [working in community projects] but not the professional qualifications. I knew I wanted to study the Master’s in Conflict, Governance and International Development at UEA. This degree directly links with issues I want to target in Africa, such as political instability, violent civil conflict and gross human rights abuses. It also addresses international relations and democracy, globalisation and the international political economy. It was the Chevening Scholarship that helped me pursue this opportunity and study in the UK.”
The Chevening Scholarship is a UK government award scheme aimed at developing global leaders by academically linking them with UK opportunities and networks. Abdul was one of only three Ghanaians to receive this after demonstrating his potential as a young agent of change.
He said: “Young leaders are found virtually in all areas of work in Africa and many of them are demonstrating semblance of hope that given the right platform, and the right opportunities, they can be change champions.”
Graduates of the Women Empowerment programme Abdul helped organise. Many of these women were originally living on the street with little hope for an education or income.
In the past Abdul has worked for Ghanaian Charity ‘Children's Right International’, sponsored by UNICEF, assisted the National Youth Authority Ghana, and held the role of Programme Director for the Enslavement Prevention Alliance West Africa (EPAWA). He’s been actively pursued campaign work since High School, where he was the Organising Secretary promoting ‘Girl Child Education’:
“Majority of families did not see the essence of educating the girl child. In those days all our communities, and the country as a whole, was guilty of this charge… Today in Ghana woman and the girls for that matter are given equal privileges and a lot more occupy high positions.”
Currently part of the National Youth Stakeholders Forum, his focus is on the Youth Movement for African Unity (YMAU) project, which seeks to create and empower young agents of change in Africa through education, training, volunteer work and mentoring schemes. Co-founded by Abdul, YMAU aims to prioritise leadership development in HIV/AIDS awareness, women’s rights and anti-human trafficking.
The Youth Movement for African Unity, headed up by UEA Master's student Abdul.]
Abdul is an important link between the troubled youth of his country and the community NGOs and charities set up to help them. He can see this very same relationship building is needed even in UK communities, where young people in low socio-economic regions do not have access or aspirations for education. By building trust, he is making vital connections that will benefit the future of his people while learning about relevant theory and policy through a postgraduate programme.
Now nearing the end of his studies with UEA’s School of International Development, Abdul is committed to writing his final dissertation: “The degree has given me empowerment to make the changes I want to see in the world.”
Abdul aims to work with more NGOs and find vital funding, then perhaps more work in policy and eventually the Parliament of Ghana. Holding true to his positive attitude, Abdul confesses that his life goal is to become Ghana’s Head of State.
Postgraduate Student: Amara Bangura
Amara is a BBC radio journalist and Master’s degree student in UEA’s School of International Development. Originally from Freetown, he left his Sierra Leone home in September 2014 to start his studies in the midst of the Ebola outbreak. Although this made the move difficult, especially when it came to fulfilling visa requirements and finding accommodation, Amara was committed to furthering his education to benefit his country.
He said: “I was determined to come to UEA because I knew this university will help me find answers to the numerous questions I have about the role of the media in development. When I finish my course, I hope to return to Sierra Leone and use the skills and knowledge I have acquired at UEA to help rebuild my country.”
His inspiring passion for journalism originated from a curiosity and enthusiasm to share the stories of Sierra Leonean people who experienced the civil war, which broke out in 1991. Amara was just 19 when the rebels attacked his village in Northern Sierra Leone. He was sitting his high school exams.
“My uncle, who I stayed with, who Ebola suddenly snatched away from me late December, on the day I was submitting an essay here [UEA], had warned me not to go to school on that day, but I’d refused because I wanted to write my exams.”
Along with three classmates, Amara fled the rebels and hid in nearby bushes for three days. None of them had any idea what was happening back in their village, other than the sound of guns. Despite this, they agreed to return.
Photograph by BBC Media Action
Once the civil war was officially over in 2002, Amara began to develop an interest in the media and its impact during conflict. He volunteered at a community radio station set up in his town, and was later recruited by BBC Media Action to report on court proceedings for those responsible for crimes in the civil war.
“People like me were needed to tell stories of the war because we saw it all.”
As a public broadcaster, Amara considered it his goal to change descriptions of this country from a ‘failed’ or ‘fragile’ state to instead be a 'promising state' and a 'country of investment with a brighter future'. He remains dedicated to changing perceptions, even throughout the Ebola crisis, which hit when he was studying journalism at Massey College, University of Toronto.
"When Ebola struck, every Sierra Leonean cried. Our health system was poorly equipped to contain the virus. In fact, the country only had one Virologist trained and qualified to tackle cases. Sadly, he died of Ebola at the very height of the outbreak.”
He returned home to help the struggle against the deadly disease, launching a radio show called 'Kick Ebola out of Sierra Leone' which tackled the deniers and informed communities with basic health information on how to stay safe.
"As a journalist, I can't use a needle and syringe to fight. The only tool I had to fight the virus was my microphone and recorder.”
Studying International Development is a huge stepping stone for leaders like Amara towards a career that can change the lives of those in the most desperate of situations. By aligning his future goals with individual modules in the programme, he tailored his degree to his interests.
“I have always wondered whether the media have any influence in society and what role it could play. I found that answer in a module called Media & Society. My Good Governance, Democracy and Development module helped me think beyond what I used to know as 'good governance'. My Conflict, Peace and Security module has taken my reporting to another level. I also signed up for a module called 'Politics and Mass Media' and trust me by now I can go back home and organise better political debates.”
Through his experiences in civil war, a deadly virus, international media storms and two university degrees, Amara has emerged with a bright future where he will represent his country in the media and hold an invaluable position in Ebola education. "There is a lot to take back home, but one thing I am sure of is that there is a space for media in development, but only if it is used well.”
Want to build a global career that positively impacts people’s lives? Explore options in International Development