Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
Opening academic year
MAASTRICHT. If one thing is important in this world, then it is education. This statement was proven by the young (27) Libyan-Canadian doctor and freedom fighter Alaa Murabit, keynote speaker at the opening of the academic year, adding lively anecdotes from her own life.
Murabit works in many fields, including women's rights, but also sustainability. Together with sixteen others, she was appointed by the secretary-general of the United Nations as advocates of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, as determined in 2015. Other advocates include the President of Ghana, footballer Lionel Messi, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, and singer Shakira, to mention but a few.
Those UN objectives are rather broadly defined, so that good education is also included. Murabit can fall back on a wealth of personal experiences in that field. Her parents moved from Libya to Canada in the nineteen-eighties, the family eventually having eleven children. “So, we all had to fight for our place,” says Murabit, and school and school achievements were deemed important. Her father proved just how important when, in the icy cold remote corner of Canada where they lived, it was once minus 40 degrees, the car refused to start, she missed the bus to school and her father took her there on foot. Having arrived, he spent quite some time rubbing her hands warm, “so that I could hold a pen and participate in the lesson”.
School gave her the idea “that I could become anything I wanted”. And her father, a doctor, pointed out her own role in that process, because “it is not the school that makes the student, it’s the student that makes the school”.
Murabit, who by the way has a TED talk on the Internet in which she speaks elaborately and wittily about her parents and siblings, emphasised the power of education and science. It manifests itself everywhere, she said: medicine depends on research, politics and policy-making cannot exist without a statistical basis; there are very few areas imaginable where science does not play a role. “So,” she emphatically concluded addressing the students, “realise that it is your own responsibility: later on, you will be asked to sit at the table where decisions will be made, you can open doors, you will create policies.”
What Murabit probably wasn't told, was that the opening of an academic year doesn't usually attract many students, except for representatives from the associations and potential winners of student prizes. But the rest of the (older) audience received the message with sympathy.