The city that opened its heart to me

Mohamed Harun who was blinded by a landmine in Simalia but who has now gained a degree from Sheffield University and his family
Mohamed Harun who was blinded by a landmine in Simalia but who has now gained a degree from Sheffield University and his family

MOHAMED Harun Mohamoud came to Sheffield from Somalia ten years ago after being blinded when a landmine exploded in his face while working for the United Nations.

At the age of 26, he was looking to start a new life away from a country where blindness ruled out any chance of education or employment.

Sheffield not only gave him a home, it also gave him the chance to prove himself, and now, overcoming the barriers of language and blindness, he is celebrating the award of a university degree.

Mohamed, who is putting something back into Sheffield by helping the local Somali community, achieved a 2.1 in international relations and global development and Third World development at the University of Derby.

He describes the degree ceremony as one of the best days of his life.

And he says: “I cannot forget the city of Sheffield, or as I sometimes call it, the City of Sanctuary – a city that has opened up its heart to me, a city that has brought me in from the cold when I first arrived here a decade ago as an asylum seeker, a city that has made me feel at home.”

Mohamed was blinded while collecting some of the millions of landmines strewn across the country. He had taken the job after leaving a refugee camp in a country torn apart by civil war. He desperately wanted to move on, earn some money and help the country back on its feet.

The explosion came after only a month.

In the UK, his needs were assessed at a school run by the Royal National Institute of Blind People and he attended residential college in Birmingham to study communication skills.

Then came a one-year humanities access course at Castle College in Sheffield, with support from the specialist visual impairment team, followed by the degree course at Derby’s School of Education, Health and Science.

When he started the course, he says, he was “at the bottom of a huge and frightful mountain”. The degree made him feel “as if I was at its peak. Those three years were full of ups and downs, full of great moments of excitement and sadness, full of enjoyment and anxiety.

“Right from the beginning, I was truly aware of the fact that choosing a goal and sticking to it changes everything.”

Part of the course took him to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Geneva, which evoked memories of when, as a young boy, he lived in one of its camps.

He also went to the West African state of Gambia, to see how people cope with poverty, and how their situation can be improved.

His own dream story, he says, is testament to the support of his family, especially his wife, Sagal Abdirahman, his father, a retired accountant who, at an early age, planted the value of education in his mind, and his mother, “the mother of patience and persistence”.

A “lion’s share” of his gratitude goes to the University of Derby, but Sheffield will always have a special place in his heart thanks to the help of the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind, the council and Castle College.

Mohamed is now a father of four living in Pitsmoor, deputy chairman of the local Somali organisation and he is helping other blind Somalians in Sheffield.

Looking back, he says he tested himself and promised that he would not retreat under any circumstances, determined to ensure his ability overcame his disability. 

“Right from the beginning, I was truly aware of the fact that choosing a goal and sticking to it changes everything.”