Fadumo Dayib is a new MC/MPA Mason student who is also a doctoral candidate with a focus on Women, Peace and Security at the University of Helsinki. She received her BSc, MSc and MPA degrees from a Finnish university and is currently at Harvard as a 2015 MC-MPA Mason fellow. She is a transnationalist with roots in Somalia, Kenya and Finland. She has extensive international experience from Europe, Africa and the Pacific and is multilingual in Somali, English, Finnish and Swahili.
Fadumo is a healthcare and development practitioner with over 12- years’ experience in research, strategy development, policy formulation, planning and implementation in forced migration, HIV, gender, women’s and adolescents’ interventions from the EU, Finnish public sector and the UN. In addition to her technical and academic expertise, she is an avid blogger, a proud mom and a tireless human rights advocate. She is currently working on her memoirs.
Fadumo is a 2016 Somalia presidential candidate.
Ping. The email had finally arrived. It contained the key to my past, present and future. I dared not look at the iPhone, fearing a rejection. In the background, the sound of light banter, melodious laughter, soft chastising accompanied the erratic thudding of my heart. All I could hear was that ping. The five month waiting period was over. Later that night, I went back to the email and sat back in shock. Harvard had chosen me over thousands of others. I dashed to my daughter’s room, aka my best friend and cheerleader, and flung myself at her.
“I am going to Harvard!” I whispered. She smiled and said, “I always knew you would, mom”. We twirled silently around the room, giggling and hugging.
I suddenly stopped. “Hey, what if this is a mistake. What if they sent me an email by mistake?” I asked. She shook her head. “Mom, Harvard is lucky to have you. Enjoy your victory. You deserve it”, she said. True enough, soon Harvard sent several follow-up emails on the next steps. It dawned on me that I was now part of the extended Harvard family. Each email made me feel special and inspired. It attested to the fact that our selection was thoughtful, rigorous and transparent.
That night, I tossed and turned. I replayed the recent phone call with George Mukundi, a former 2014 Mason. He’d been ecstatic and very proud of my admittance to Harvard. I had sought him out on LinkedIn in 2013 after reading his entry on the Harvard admissions blog. George answered all my questions about the Mason program, admission and course requirements. Moreover, he strongly encouraged me to apply, quashing any doubts I had about my eligibility.
Although we’d never met before, George volunteered to review my admission essays and was true to his commitment. To motivate me even more, he’d show me around the Kennedy school surroundings during our Skype sessions. Fadumo, you’ll be here. Retain that image, he’d advise me. In addition, he introduced me to the East African community in Harvard and made every effort to make my transition to the Kennedy school effortless.
So on the 30th of June, I walked confidently into the Kennedy school; the third Somali woman to ever do so and the second Somali woman to be graduating in 2015. Thanks to George, the surroundings seemed familiar and welcoming. Anyone observing my arrival from afar would have seen a lone, contemplative figure. But I was not alone; I came in the company of my family, my friends, my community, my nation and my ancestors. They celebrated the arrival of their daughter; an offspring of an illiterate slave and a nomad, into Harvard, the world’s best university. This was a defining moment, one that would go on to change my life forever.
The first day of the Mason seminar was like a mini-UN session. I sat shoulder-to-shoulder with highly accomplished classmates from every corner of the world. On breaks, I would hold intriguing discussions on politics, women’s issues, religion and human rights with world renowned faculty members. My brain was on overload, stimulated beyond imagination. It was in intellectual candy land, spoilt for choice. These discussions, both with faculty and classmates, eventually catapulted me into putting my political aspirations into concrete action.
Much as I enjoyed this period, I was keen to get down to action. Harvard did not disappoint. My teammates from Chile, India, Macedonia and I, as members of the Uganda chamber of commerce, were soon grappling and bonding over a policy case study called Bujagali. I had reservations about taking this role. Would I do justice to it? It called for putting my activist role aside and to taking on the role of a business person. What decision should we take? Why? How would it benefit the country? How should we convince the parliament to support our case? And just like that, we had seamlessly transitioned from our various professional backgrounds into academia.
The second challenge presented itself in the form of math. One classmate wondered what numbers and words were doing together. Another groaned, “Oh sweet God, this is not Bujagali”. Soon others joined in the chorus, lamenting about the alarming rate at which their hair was greying.
I listened silently, hunched over my math homework, trying to make sense of it. If only they knew, I muttered to myself. They were blessed to have had a solid educational foundation; some having started primary school at the tender age of seven and progressing to secondary school. I, on the other hand, due to constant displacement and a bloody civil war, had had altogether less than five years primary and secondary schooling. Yet, there I was, knuckled down and battling it out. Upon hearing my story, most of my classmates felt inspired, thankful for what they had and determined to excel in math. Likewise, the life stories of other classmates, rich in narrative and texture, never ceased to amaze me.
I was fortunate to have Marian Stas, a math genius, as my math facilitator. He brought me up to speed in just less than two weeks. Marian would come in at six in the morning and leave at nine in the evening, breathing math into our tired souls. To my astonishment, he was also available during the weekends too. With his support, I overcame my fear of math and even accomplished the standards I had set for myself. Special thanks also go to Graeme Bird, Deborah Hughes-Hallett and Shiv Kumar for the friendship and support provided.
Being in Harvard is a surreal experience. It continues to exceed my expectations and is worth every penny. I had to leave my children and family behind but don’t regret it a minute. And on the dark days that I do, my beautiful children convince me otherwise. They tell me how proud they are, that I’m doing this for them and for Somalia, that they too hope to follow in my footsteps. And to think I almost ended up not applying because I thought I was not ‘Harvard material”. If you are reading this and planning to apply; go for it! Close your ears to the negative self-talk. I encourage qualified and competent African women to apply; especially women from Somalia and countries transitioning from conflict. Harvard will give you the skills and know-how that is crucial to the rebuilding and reconstruction of post-conflict countries. Moreover, you’ll get alliances and a lifetime network which you can tap into endlessly.
Put time, effort and consideration into your application. Submit it on time. If you have queries, get in touch with Matt Clemons. He is easily accessible and guaranteed to respond. Believe me when I tell you that we are all Harvard material. My admittance is an attestation to that!
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