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Many people across Scotland will be beginning their journey in higher and further education this week as universities and colleges go back for the new term.
But few will have travelled further – literally or metaphorically – than Kinlochleven man Aamar Yasouf.
Mr Yasouf, originally from Syria, came to Scotland in 2017 as part of the United Nations’ refugee resettlement policy as the crisis in his homeland worsened.
This week, he begins his MPharm in Pharmacy at the University of Strathclyde – the number one ranked university for the subject in the UK.
Aamar has always wanted to work in the medical sector since he begun studying in the Laboratory of Blood Analysis at the Medical Institute of the University of Aleppo.
The war hampered his opportunities to continue his studies and an elongated spell in a refugee camp in Lebanon made his dream seem even further away.
Explaining the level of barriers he had to overcome, Mr Yasouf said: ‘When I came here I had no English and tried to develop my understanding and ability in this new language through volunteer work. I worked in the primary school nursery and several places in the village.
‘In addition, I took English language classes. After this, I started working as a housekeeper at the Dragon’s Tooth Golf Club at Ballachulish. I then worked in Fort William’s Belford Hospital as a nurse assistant.’
Explaining what has inspired him to pursue this ambitious path, Mr Yasouf said: ‘I have tried to become familiar with the role of the hospital pharmacist here in Scotland, which is slightly different from that in Syria.
‘In Syria, you need to pay to see a doctor and so, often, a pharmacist would be the first person to see and advise a patient. After my work at my village pharmacy, I have realised that the pharmacist in Syria, especially in the developing regions, is a like a doctor.
‘He examines the patient and prescribes him the most suitable medicine. The NHS provides greater safeguards and I have learnt a lot from seeing this in action.’
At the same time as gaining the qualification he needed to be admitted to the course – undertaking a summer school in chemistry, which he passed with 78 per cent, as well as an English language standard test at a very high level – Mr Yasouf has been representing the experiences of refugees and resettled people across the UK, appearing on panels in Leeds and for the UN in Geneva over the summer.
‘I want to complete what I wanted from the start of my higher education. I want to study pharmacy and the effect of medicine on the human body so that I can help people if I can return to Syria, especially after the war, because they are in dire need of well qualified medical staff.
‘If I cannot return to Syria, I want to work in the area where I live, to be useful and to do my best. After two years here, this has become my second home.
‘We have security, stability and tranquillity here, receiving a warm welcome and support from our friends in Highland. I wish to be able to offer something back.’
Aamar Yasouf, centre, speaking in Geneva.
NO F38 Aamar Yasouf