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Using Education To Transform My Reality – Cheikh Diouf Faye

Cheikh Diouf Faye
Cheikh Diouf Faye

June 20th marks World Refugee Day – an internationally recognised opportunity, organised by the United Nations, to recognise, honour and celebrate refugees from around the world whilst shining a much-needed spotlight on the conflicts and crises which have forced people to flee their homes in order to seek safety.

Going further, each year, World Refugee Day champions the right for refugees to find economic and social inclusion, as well as to visibly advocate for finding solutions to the root causes of their plights.

Business schools and universities – institutions which exist to educate the next generation, shape future society and find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, support refugees through education access and support, outreach initiatives and research.

In recognition of World Refugee Day, BlueSky Thinking speaks to students around the world who have been displaced by global events and conflict, using their experiences, voices and actions to help make the world a better place…

  • Name: Cheikh Diouf Faye
  • Occupation: I am currently studying
  • Country of origin: Senegal and Gambia
  • Current Studies: Master’s in Management candidate at Universidad Loyola,

Can you tell us a bit about your experience of being a refugee and how/why you sought refuge?

My refugee story began in Africa, my parents are of Senegalese origin who lived in the north of the country. Because of the climatic crises affecting agriculture and livestock (the main economic activities in the area), many people began to leave the region to settle in more tropical areas of the south and centre. During their trip to the south, I was born in a small country called Gambia, which is located in the interior of Senegal. Shortly after I was born, we settled in the Casamance region of Senegal, where I lived until I was nine or ten years old.

I arrived in Spain by boat with a cousin, the trip lasted more than a month. After only two weeks of the journey from Senegal to Spain, we had complications at sea and arrived at the island of Hierro, part of Spanish Canary Islands. Later, we were taken to Gran Canaria and then to Madrid, the country’s capital located in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula, where I lived in several Spanish Red Cross juvenile facilities.

Why did I seek refuge?

I was a minor and I was alone when I arrived at the peninsula. The person I came with, for different reasons, decided to separate our paths. From that moment on, the Spanish State kept custody of me until I turned eighteen.

My reasons for fleeing Senegal are diverse, among them are poverty, lack of education and opportunities, child labour, living in a conflict zone in the country (which demands independence) and a complex family structure.

Finally, my experience as an immigrant and refugee was very hard in my childhood, I had to adapt to a difficult reality and mature quickly in order to survive and grow as a person. However, I have also found many people who have supported me such as the monitors of the juvenile facility, friends, and a Spanish host family.

What made you decide to study at business school? And have you faced any specific challenges as a refugee student?

I did not decide to study in a business school, but the school chose me, since I did not have the economic capacity to pay for any studies. Only a few days before reaching adult age in Spain (18 years old) and having to leave the Juvenile Facility, I was offered a scholarship at Universidad Loyola.

My degree choices were limited to those offered by the school. At that moment, I had two options: to study law or Business Administration and Management. In the end, I opted for the latter, as it offered a wider range of options, which were more in line with my profile.

Regarding the challenges imposed as a refugee, since I was about twelve to thirteen years old, I set out to change the history of my family in Senegal. I started sending money more frequently, with the weekly allowances I received in the Juvenile Facility. On the other hand, I was able to provide enough so that my siblings who were old enough attended the local school. Two of them first, and then a third one, who was too young at the time (sadly, he has now dropped out of school). Nevertheless, I’m proud to say that one of my sisters will start university next year, and another who is two years away from doing the same. In addition, I am in charge of a girl and a boy who have recently started studying.

I believe in education as a transformative tool, so I chose this path to change my reality and the reality of my family. In the near future I intend to increase the number of young people in my care, my goal is to support people to have the ability to develop their futures freely and autonomously, so they do not risk their lives as I did at sea to come to Spain or any other country.

The accumulated experiences of planning to achieve objectives and goals have helped me to achieve everything I have today. I intend to use what I have learned to change other people’s lives. My dream is to create a school of opportunities in Senegal.

“I believe in education as a transformative tool, so I chose this path to change my reality and the reality of my family”

Are there any unique skills, perspectives, or experiences that you feel you bring as a refugee student?

It is difficult for me to pinpoint any particular skill, but the experience certainly makes you grow as a person, determines what you want in your life and for the lives of others around you. It hones your ability to learn and apply the knowledge you gain to generate positive change. I try to project that in everything I do and in all my relationships, not just on campus but everywhere else.

Setting personal goals and learning to achieve them is important, although I tend to find that many people believe the inability to do that, and fail is due to low mental capability. I believe the ability to overcome obstacles and achieve goals can be learned with a good education and caring tutors and teachers.

For me, being a refugee and succeeding in studies does not depend so much on analytical or retention intelligence, but on learning whatever knowledge or abilities needed to improve your life and be happy.

On the other hand, from the time we are children until our adulthood, it is difficult to find a place that teaches us how to live (a fundamental element that builds our character). Primary education focuses mostly on knowledge and less on skills, since a vast majority of people think the latter are acquired naturally over time. However, I think the skills you learn can vary greatly depending on a great number of factors, ranging from your own background and family situation to the place where you live.

One thing is clear to me among all those, learning to live with and care for oneself and others are essential for your personal and professional development.

What advice would you give to other refugee students who are considering pursuing business education or starting their entrepreneurial journeys?

The first thing would be to try to learn about themselves in order to identify their weaknesses and strengths so that they can grow personally and professionally.

How can business schools and the broader community better support and empower refugee students in their pursuit of business education and career opportunities?

Just like anyone else, to build a successful life a refugee needs emotional and economic stability to be able to carry out his obligations as a student in any field. In addition, being a part of a close-knit community will offer emotional support, peace of mind and the opportunity of being a valued member by helping others in any way he or she can. In order to achieve that you must first understand the customs and needs of this group, which requires personalised integration and support.

Business schools are key to refugee students if besides the studies and teachers, they are able to provide them with tutors, generate integrating class dynamics and offer career opportunities and professional practices so that graduates can achieve their first job and able to develop a life around it. It should be noted that many of them suffer discrimination for having a different colour, gender, culture etc. This makes it more difficult for them to find job opportunities.

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