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Abdallah Alhaj Sulaiman, a 29 year old from the Syrian city of Homs, tackled a lot of obstacles to become one of the top scholars in the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE) STEM Scholarship Program
. AGFE offers high achieving and underserved Emirati and Arab youth access to high quality education and allows them to solve real world problems by giving them the chance to fulfill their educational dreams.
As a result of the civil war in Syria, Abdallah decided to migrate from his country in 2013 seeking education abroad. Chasing his dreams, he chose Egypt as an affordable and convenient destination to continue his studies. During this period, Abdallah’s father retired from his job and his mother was diagnosed with cancer. This did not hold him back; he strived to reach his goal, even having to repeat his bachelor’s degree from scratch, as the university administration refused to give him credit for past courses. He also had to cover his living expenses by selling watches and working for a while as a part-timer in a dairy products factory after his study hours.
After completing his bachelor of science in food sciences in 2016, he decided to apply for a scholarship to pursue his master’s in food technology
at the American University of Beirut (AUB). With the help of a British friend, Abdallah managed to fill an application for a scholarship at the Al Ghurair Foundation for Education and was thrilled to receive a call just a week later.
According to Dr. Malek Tabbal, director of the Leadership, Equity, and Diversity (LEAD) Initiative
and Al Ghurair Scholarship Program, the foundation receives hundreds of applicants every year, but only chooses those who prove to be high achievers along with having exceptional abilities and remarkable grades.
Having low English language proficiency did not stop Abdallah from working hard and preparing for his English entrance exam at AUB. With the help of a friend who taught him English for six hours on daily basis, he managed to get enrolled at AUB with an intensive English language course.
As a master’s student pursuing a degree in food technology, Abdallah invested most of his time researching topics related to food and water safety within the MENA region. The aforementioned were published in very reputable journals worldwide.
“I am very thankful to Professor Issmat Kassem who had a huge impact on the person that I have become today,” says Abdallah. “He supported me with my research and always pushed me to achieve my full potentials.”
Despite being a tough period for Abdallah with his mother passing away just a few months before defending his thesis and being away from his family for six years, his resilience did not stop him from completing his degree and graduating with flying colors in 2019.
In addition to his studies, Abdallah participated in several impactful initiatives, collaborations, trainings, workshops, and conferences in the region. As part of the LEAD Initiative at AUB, he conducted several trainings which aimed to empower Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian women who live in rural areas. He helped them enhance their knowledge in food production safety, as well as teaching them manufacturing processes for over 100 hours of trainings.
Abdallah had other similar collaborations with the Ministry of Industry in Lebanon, the World Food Programme, Notre Dame University (NDU), Multi Aid Programs NGO (MAP) in the Bekaa Governorate, and the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU)
“My goal is to educate people on proper, healthy and modernized ways to produce dairy products without using cancerous products and preservatives.” says Abdallah.
Abdallah and two of his friends joined the Water Innovation Lab in Lebanon (WIL Lebanon) in 2019 and won a prize of $5,000 after identifying antimicrobial resistant bacteria from water matrices in Lebanon.
“None of this would have been possible without the support of the AGFE Foundation. Life is a cycle and I believe the best way to pay them back is by passing on my knowledge to others,” Abdallah adds.
Abdallah’s story is that of a young man who, given a helping hand, was able to achieve his dreams through persistence, resilience, and the ability to face challenges with tenacity. His life journey exemplifies the saying, “where there is a will, there is a way.”