Afolabi Kazir’s story is no ordinary one. Born in a small village in Oyo town of Nigeria into a family of 22 children all of whom have had no tertiary education, how did this young man with a very humble background become winner of two prestigious scholarships? He shared his story with After School Africa recently.
What schools have given you these scholarships?
The first one is the American university in Cairo, the second one is the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I resumed for the first one.
Why didn’t you take the second one?
Actually, I made some scholarship applications – I think 9 of them – from December 2016 to March 2017. My plan was to apply for 10 of them because I wanted to broaden my chances of getting into at least one school but i didn’t go through with the 10th one. One of them was the American University in Cairo. I got rejected by 7 of them and then the next one was the American University in Cairo that is, the 8th one then the 9th one the King Abdulaziz University.
The King Abdulaziz University does not process students’ admission quickly so when I got the 8th scholarship around June last year, it made sense to go for it and I resumed in September 2017. It was only about 3 weeks ago that I got the reply from the 9th school when normally, the reply should have come around July last year for fall 2018 academic session in September of last year.
How long is the program at the American University in Cairo for?
It’s a 2-year Masters program between September 2017 to June 2019. I left exactly 7th of September 2017.
What course did you go in for and what course were you given?
I desired to study Msc in Sustainable Development. Yes I was given my course. You know I don’t think that many of these universities and international scholarships change the student’s course. If you put in for a particular degree, then that is what you will be assessed on and never on another one unless you apply to change your option by yourself. So if you’re qualified, then you get the scholarship but if you are not qualified, maybe you will be rejected.
Tell us how you got to know about this scholarship
As a child, I had liked and still like to win scholarships. I’ve had a flair for anything that leads to scholarships. My first encounter with scholarships was when I got the Total E & P scholarship which saw me proceed to the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile Ife, Ogun state, Nigeria for undergraduate studies.
Shortly before I finished my first degree, I had some issues that made me realise I would not graduate with a first class as I had wanted. I eventually bagged a second class upper degree and because it took me by surprise, I began thinking that my chances of getting a scholarship for a masters degree were reduced. So I became determined to apply to as many scholarships as possible and that was how I came up with applying for ten. Some of these scholarships I saw while surfing through the web and some I saw accidentally. One of these scholarships I saw accidentally was the African Graduate Fellowship offered by the American University in Cairo. I was surfing through After School Africa one day and I just jammed into the scholarship and because I knew many scholarships by name and I had never seen this one before, I was wowed. It’s in Africa and it’s in Egypt? Okay, maybe I should give it a trial, I thought.
The scholarship, African Graduate Fellowship was eventually what I wanted. It covers everything except your movement from your home country to the university. You just have to get yourself on campus and once you resume in the school you begin to enjoy the scholarship.
Was it easy applying for this scholarship?
Listen, while applying, I had some challenges taking the TOEFL exams. I beat the total mark required by the University but I did not meet the writing module section cut-off mark. Unfortunately for me, the school said they would not be able to process my Fellowship application because the minimum mark was 21 while I had 20. I had already applied to 8 universities at that time – the 9th one was the King Abdulaziz university while the 10th one was the Pan African University – and as I was sure one of them would take me, I thought to myself ‘why would I spend doing another English exam?” So I left the application uncompleted.
In March 2017, The school contacted me that I had opened the application without completing it. I told them I wasn’t prepared to go through the stress of writing the English exam again. Also the first TOEFL exam came from the funds I realised during my NYSC (Nigerian graduate service training). How would I raise cash for another? It was within my financial constraints that I was applying for these scholarships. The school still contacted me that I had been shortlisted for a Fellowship assessment interview and I was to either show up in Cairo for the interview or send them a Skype contact through which they could interview me online. How come? I still did not reply them because I knew I had not completely submitted my fellowship form. I did not want a situation whereby some persons over there would say, “Nigerians have come again; he did not submit a Fellowship form yet he’s still pushing for a scholarship”. But some trusted people who were aware of what was happening like a mentor of mine, advised me to continue to follow up with them which I did.
It so happened that on the first of June, I received a congratulatory message saying I had been awarded the Fellowship.
Did you purposely select this country for study?
Yes, I was looking for scholarships from this country and any country in the world that would offer me the opportunity to learn the Arabic language while I studied through scholarship. Other schools I applied to which rejected me were scholarships in the University of Ghana, Commonwealth shared scholarship from the University of Aberdeen, Erasmus Mundus scholarships in European schools, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals among others.
How was the process of applying for these scholarships?
It was definitely difficult. The first challenge is often to find a university that offers the course you want and at the same time, one that requests to have you with your qualifications. I studied Geography for my first degree so while searching for scholarships I was looking for any course that was related to Geography even in the slightest. Applying for scholarships takes a lot of stubbornness and very high ambition you know,.
For most scholarships, you have to write a personal essay. You don’t just write these things anyhow because one, you are given deadlines and then you are given hints on how to write them. You have to tailor these statements along the interests of the university. I had to look into my background to see what I could write about that showed I had the right background, the right interest and that I was prepared to add value to the university while adding value to myself. I had no need to lie so I did not lie. Now imagine applying for different scholarships. I had to write different personal essays. Infact, I had a folder for each scholarship I was applying for. Talk about stress.
As I have said, I am from a poor family so most of the applications I sent out were from my personal savings. I had to take GRE, TOEFL and all those protocols. This made me set guidelines. One of them was that I would never apply for a scholarship that required me to pay any application fee. The second was that I set the number of applications I would send out to ten so that whatever it would take, I would be ready. My third policy was never to apply for any course that just had the name Geography because from experience, geography is not a highly-rewarded discipline for scholarships. It also has a lot of branches so I just had to look deeply into the university catalogue for a course that looks like what I was interested in. All the courses in the different universities I applied to were within the scope of Geography but were not exactly Geography.
How do you feel now winning these scholarships?
Winning them has to be the most exciting thing in my life. It wasn’t difficult deciding to go with this particular scholarship because I made thorough research on all ten scholarships so once I got any one, I was happy to get it.
What was it about you that made you win these scholarships?
First I knew what I wanted. I decided what I wanted to be in life and I think one needs some qualities to be able to become so determined. One of my qualities was that I was tired of studying under such poor conditions. I mean if you really want to be the best you can be, it’s much better to study in places where you can find all the equipment and facilities to be able to understand the concepts and issues that plague the world today. Once you have the opportunity to go to these more developed or “highly developing countries”, you are blessed with the opportunity to see from a clearer perspective under carefully-guided structures.
The next point was that I was a good surfer. I would like to thank After School Africa for that. The scholarships are so well arranged that one has a good overview of everything about the scholarship and university. You have the deadline there, the name of the scholarship, the categories and everything has just been sorted. So it was easy for me to explore even though I had the constraints of internet and power supply where I lived.
Also I prayed to Allah because I am Muslim and after praying I would go and do everything to the best of my ability especially when it came to the required documents.
Then I have mentors who guided and still guide me through most of my tough decision-making periods. They are also people I study to know what keeps them glowing. You can never go wrong with mentors.
Tell us about your childhood
I was born in Oyo town in Oyo state, Nigeria into a very large family. I have 21 siblings with 19 older than me and 2 younger ones. I was and still am the first to have a university education. Having food on the family’s table and sound health were the priorities my family generally cared about. As for your career, that was left in the hands of the wives; my father was ready to pay for anything so most of my siblings were set up into businesses in trading and crafts but none furthered their education.
With the help of my mother who was a teacher, I was exposed to all sorts of books which I would read day in day out. That made me quite the brilliant child at a young age. When my father noticed, it was at that point that he vowed that at least one out of his 20 children would tow the academic line. With that, I had no excuse than to focus on my books.
Then, my father used to buy two types of newspapers daily and because of what my father thinks he had lost with the rest of my siblings which he wanted to regain with me, every day I would read those newspapers aloud to him, every line of it from cover to cover. He would make me read to him and ask me what I understood from every article. He would show me a person and say ‘so and so person’ has a Masters degree so if you want to write big grammar like this person, you have to learn to read.
It was from these reading adventures with my father that I became ambitious and also picked up a few mentors who were often showcased as Nigerian scholars in the Saturday edition of one of the newspapers. I still remember Dr Adetutu Mary Aghedo, whose closing statement in one of her interviews has been my guiding philosophy. I mean these people’s lives have greatly influenced me.
Does your family approve of this scholarship?
Oh, definitely. Through some little achievements I’ve had in the past they’ve seen that I require little or no supervision in achieving some highly prized feats. They wholly trust my decision. I was the second best graduating student in my department in the University for a child coming from a very humble background. When I told them about this scholarship, they were too amazed.
How would you apply what you have learnt through this scholarship to your community?
My Masters in Sustainable Development has 4 Specialisations. One of them is Community Development. The second branch is Green Technologies and this deals with renewable energies, solid and hazardous waste generation, water dissemination and so on. The third branch is Entrepreneurship. The fourth is Urban and Regional Planning. From this, you can see that my course tackles many of the problems that relate with the environment of the developing world
Right from the time I applied for this program, I was interested on studying green technologies that would help me learn more on how to utilize waste. We generate a lot of waste in Nigeria and at the same time, we dispose of these wastes indiscriminately. I am interested in bio-gas production which converts organic waste to the gas we use at home. If I’m able to still concentrate in this area within this scholarship, it would go a long way to help me help my community with waste conversion and creating a massive bio-fuel industry.
What advice or encouragement would you give to students searching for scholarships?
The first one is there is nothing like impossibility. A lot of students think they can’t win a scholarship because of one deficiency or the other. I’ve had my own challenges. I never had a smooth process in anything but I kept on striving for the best. I made sure I kept going because there are still opportunities in all difficulties. One of my professors used to say, “Do not worry if you have a third class or pass, it does not mean all hope is lost. It only means your road would be longer”. But if you are careful and wise, your road could even be shorter. There are scholarships out there where you can show some practical things that would amaze the admission officials and the world. Your certificate won’t show that so it now depends on you to make things work for yourself. Continue to improve yourself through countless activities and in these activities, show the world you’re trying to make sense and also stylishly keep on building your profile.
What do you think about After School Africa?
I have recommended a number of people to After School Africa for them to get anything they want to know about scholarships. It’s the perfect platform and should be one of the best, if not the best of the few authentic scholarship sites out there. After School Africa caught my attention with the way it organizes vital information which shows it cares about its readers. I want you people to continue to maintain the standard and I don’t think with the way you people work, people won’t appreciate your job. So thank you very much, I appreciate what After School Africa has done for me and I will continue to recommend the site to my colleagues.
Thank you. Any Last Words?
This will be for people out there and it is Let the sky be your starting point!