CAIRO: Mostafa Kamal became the first visually-impaired Egyptian to get the British Chevening Scholarship. Last year he did his master’s in disabilities studies at Leeds University.
The program that sponsors students’ masters’ programs in the United Kingdom is expanding its scope by reaching out to students with disabilities. This September another visually impaired scholar will travel to study for her master’s degree at Birmingham University.
“My field of study does not exist in Egypt; as here when we teach about disabilities it’s usually from a medical perspective,” explained Kamal. “Disabilities are viewed as the person’s problem; while there [in the UK] they perceive it as a social problem. Therefore they work on creating a suitable environment for disabled individuals.”
It was initially a challenge for Kamal to travel abroad and live on his own in a foreign country. Yet, he overcame the difficulties, holding — beside his studies — a number of qanun recitals.
Returning with Kamal were also the first three students from Al Azhar to receive the scholarship.
British Ambassador to Egypt, Dominic Asquith, held a celebration on Monday at his residence in honor of the 27 returning scholars and fellows who were awarded the Chevening Scholarship.
The keynote speaker at the event was Hani Sarie-Eldin, chairman of the Middle East Institute for Law and Development, who expressed his appreciation of the British Council’s efforts regarding the Chevening Scholarship.
“It is wise to invest in human capital; [in fact] it is the best form of investment and it is both rewarding for Egypt and the United Kingdom,” Sarie-Eldin said, adding that he wanted more private sector institutions to follow suit “education is a must for this country and the only way forward.”
As a former Chevening scholar, Sarie-Eldin advised scholars who just completed their studies and came back using four proverbs. First was the Greek saying, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Second, he advised them to build on what they’ve learned citing the proverb, “A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous One.”
Third, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” He then concluded by stressing the importance of teamwork: “Two hands are always better than one.”
“It’s a life-altering experience; my whole perspective of the West has changed. Before I was a bit afraid of the West wondering whether they hated us and what do they think of us due to the political instability in our region,” said Sina Hbous, who just retuned from London School of Economics where she got her MA in development studies.
“I really respected the rules over there, seeing the difference between a place that is totally organized and a place that is not. I saw the benefit of having rules and the respect they have for individual freedom,” she explained.
“I hope to transfer what I’ve learned there to Egypt.”
During the event, the 23 new Chevening scholars who will be leaving to study for a year in the UK this fall were also present. Among them is Nahla Osman who will be going to University College London where she will be doing her MA in development administration and planning.
“I have been working on the development of slum areas and squatter settlements in Egypt and I want my study in the UK to enrich my academic background, theoretically and technically, so I would come back and work in this field,” explained Osman.
Sarie-Eldin advised these 23 students that during their time in the UK they have to be open to learn, not only academically but culturally as well, learning concepts such as the way of thinking, problem solving and the value of time. “One year can pass quickly so be ready from day one,” he pointed out.
The British Chevening scholarships are funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth office and administered by the British Council. About 1,000 Egyptians have benefited from the scholarship, now part of a vast network that spans a wide range of fields.
Requirements of the recipients include, being an Egyptian; English-language skills; a BA or MA with no less than a B (“gayed”) grade; and having a clear vision about one’s objective and future plans as well as demonstrating leadership skills.
“The objective from the Chevening Scholarships is having young Egyptians going abroad to study for an MA for one year at a university in England. And through their stay there they acquire academic as well as life skills beneficial in their field of work and life in general, so they would come back to improve and develop their country,” said Nevine Sharaf, the scholarships and alumni officer at the British Council in Egypt.