Concluding Part: Refugee Success Story, by Dr. Teddy Bandima PhD
There was no end of my sufferings in sight until I got the opportunity to come to Canada in 2002 as a refugee with permanent resident status. It was something unexpected. I had no idea that someday, another country would visit my refugee camp and rescue me, uninvited. When I left Sudan, my primary goal was to pursue education. While in Ethiopia and Kenya, I failed to get the education I wanted. I fled Sudan with a backpack and inside the backpack was my high school certificate. I traveled with it anywhere I went.
My dream was to enroll in a college anytime an opportunity nocked. So it was not a surprise that the first thing I did, less than a week after my arrival in Saskatoon, was to submit an application to the University of Saskatchewan. It was a joyous moment, for me, when I received the acceptance letter from the university three weeks later in the December of 2002. I immediately registered for my undergraduate classes and applied for a student loan. It was in January 2003 that I joined the university as an undergraduate student. Although the courses were challenging at the early stages, I worked hard and graduated with an honors degree in International Studies in 2006. One of the major challenges I encountered at the early stages was the use of computer and lack of skills in research and writing. The kind of life I had in Africa had prevented me from having contact with a computer. That was why the use of computer became another challenge I had to overcome. Given the enormous problems I witnessed in the countries I lived in back in Africa, I believed that if I really wanted to offer help back in Africa, an undergraduate degree would not be enough. So I applied to pursue a master’s degree in the School of Public Policy where I graduated with Masters of Public Administration in 2009. I knew that I could find a job with that master’s degree. But I had greater ambition. While in Africa, I had the dream of acquiring a PhD and then use my knowledge for the greater good of the society. This dream prompted me to submit an application to the Department of Educational Administration where I gained acceptance as a PhD student in 2010. It is worth noting that I would not have enrolled in or completed the PhD program without vital help of the department and some wonderful professors and staff who fought for, provided and assisted me with scholarships, bursaries, and grants. I defended my PhD successfully on January 15, 2016.
Although my life journey has been extremely difficult, it has been very fruitful, at least academic wise. The adversities I have been through have taught me about the mysteries of life. I have learned that there are different ways that individuals like me can choose to respond to life’s circumstances. For instance, I would have chosen suicide. I would have chosen anger and violence. I would have taken part in unproductive practices that would not have been helpful for my future. I would have chosen a shortcut that would have simply turned into ashes. But I chose to take the long and tedious route of education after leaving the refugee camp and moving to Canada.
During my life journey so far, I have learned that life may be hard, but I do not always have to be negative or give up to it. I have learned that, while I may not choose my circumstances, I do always have a choice to make. I have learned that if I choose the way that leads toward the goals I have set, I should also get prepared for unexpected unpleasant experiences that I may encounter that might seem to go on forever. For instance, in the face of setbacks, disappointments, frustration, depression, rejection, pains, loss of loved ones, and hardships, I can choose whether I succumb to defeat, self-pity, victimhood and despair, or I can learn to be resilient, persistent, and goal-oriented while relying on the human spirit that is already within me.
It was this experience that made me start to wonder why many people give up pursuing their dreams when faced with what seems as insurmountable life challenges. I began to wonder why so many of us give up or take negative or unproductive routes. In my difficult journey, knew many who were more intelligent than I was. I thought they would succeed in life quite easily the moment they found an opportunity. Yet their lives have been filled, not with hope, but absolute misery and hopelessness. Only few of the people I thought could succeed big in life have become goal-oriented. Some of the questions I asked myself were: What makes some individuals goal-oriented and overcomers of situations that others may consider unsolvable or insurmountable? What makes some individuals resilient and allows them to discover and make use of the human spirits that are already within them to overcome obstacles and attain a significant life achievement? Looking at myself, I am not what some may consider smart or intelligent. I see myself just as an average guy with average intelligence. But what I know about myself is that I do not give up on something once I commit myself to it. I see myself as a survivor or an overcomer. I am resilient and goal-oriented. I like taking risks. I am a positive and compassionate person by nature. I hate violence and divisions. I hate making excuses for my failures in life. I am a God fearing person who trusts and fears God in good and bad times. I learned to trust in God from my parents, especially my father who was one time a deacon and was on his way to becoming a priest when other responsibilities forced him to quit. I am a determined individual who developed a vision of obtaining a PhD when I was in an elementary school and had persisted, no matter what. I often ask myself, why have I and others become resilient while some of my smarter friends, with whom I had lived, have not? What motivated me and what discouraged them? Why do few individuals often see what happened to them in a positive way while most others under similar circumstances continue to view their situations negatively?
Those were some of the questions that piqued my interest to choose the PhD topic: Overcoming Odds. I wanted to explore an explanation of what make some people resilient and goal-oriented than others. With the help of my supervisor, I managed to develop a topic and research questions that would lead me to these findings. I wanted to find some answers to those questions. Based on my experience, resilience and the ability to overcome challenges is something that is learned. I do not believe that I was born a resilient person. There were periods in which I felt completely hopeless and demoralized. But something happened that enabled me to rebound. I believe that something is what helps us develop resilience and become goal-oriented. For instance, though I suffered alone, I have never been alone. There were plenty of spiritual and academic books that I read that kept me sane, positive, and strong in the midst of what seemed to be an endless hell on earth. Although I was separated with my parents/family years back, I did not forget the vital life lessons I learned from my parents. I exploited those lessons the best I could. I also received support at critical moments from various sources that kept me moving forward. There also have been numerous role models from whom I have learned in my life’s journey. I believe that the various supports I have received have been instrumental in helping me to become resilient and goal-oriented. These supports have led me to become positive and be able to accomplish my goals.
My life experiences and those of the sixteen people I interviewed for my study have taught me that no one possesses unique abilities to overcome odds. Resilience is something that can be learned and developed. I have also learned that some key support structures can enable individuals to overcome odds to succeed. Like some of the participants, there were times that I faced trauma and anxiety. Like the sixteen participants, my life changed because of something positive. If resilience can be learned then it is possible to learn what make people resilient. Some researchers have concluded that Individuals achieve resilience through positive adaptation and development despite the significant hurdles or adversity. They negotiate, adapt to, or manage significant sources of stress, anxiety or trauma by taking advantage of the assets and resources within and the support structures that the environments facilitate. My hope of choosing to study resilient individuals was that the society can learn by studying resilient individuals who have overcome adversities and the support structures that facilitated those so that the lessons learnt from them can contribute toward developing strategies that can be of great benefit for helping individuals experiencing similar problems. I believe that goal has generally been met in my study.
Life may throw several challenges at you, however there is always a silver lining if you persevere, stay focused, surround yourself with positive people, and believe in your potential!
Thank you for taking time to read Dr. Teddy’s inspiring story. Please leave us your comments. Also, feel free to share your story, or refer someone who might like to share theirs with us!