Eritrean’s epic walk leads to UKZN degree

2010-04-30 00:00

MANY people have dreams of achieving something great. But very few would walk thousands of kilometres to a foreign country, forgo fresh food and sleep in the open for two months in order to realise that dream.

Such was the dogged determination of one man whose dream was to study in South Africa.

Desale Yosief Okubamichael recently obtained his masters of science degree in botany from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg.

Okubamichael (28) comes from Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa bordered by Sudan in the west and Ethophia in the south.

In 2007, he left the comfort of his home, with just $500 and a handful of clothes. He braved bad weather and uncertainty, and walked and hitch-hiked through Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi to join his brother in Pietermaritzburg.

Okubamichael told The Witness yesterday that before his epic journey, “I did not know much about South Africa. I had heard of Nelson Mandela, his courage in prison and ruling the country after he was released. These years were also important years in Eritrean history. We got our independence in 1991 …

“Then, while watching the African Cup of Nations, my eye caught Mark Fish. Immediately, I recognised the determination of South Africans to succeed.”

So when a group of students, some of whom were his close friends, were sent to South Africa by the government of Eritrea in terms of an agreement between the University of Asmara and South Africa, his dream began to take form.

“They told me how good the quality of education in South Africa was and I wanted to experience that for myself,” he said.

Though Okubamichael admits the journey was hard and he sometimes feared for his life, he said all he could do was “to pray to God, move on and hope for the best”.

“I had canned food most of the time and sometimes I bought the cheapest food available. I hardly had three meals a day. I used to sleep in the open sometimes, and at certain times I never slept.”

Okubamichael comes from a remote village in Eritrea. While he has a big family, he said, his parents did their best to take good care of them.

“They gave us unconditional love and did whatever it took to ensure we had a good education. They wanted us to be independent and worked very hard for that.”

Okubamichael does not feel he is special. He believes that what makes a person exceptional is patience and hard work.

So whether you are lucky enough to reach your destination easily or whether you have to “struggle hard” to get there, Okubamichael believes, what matters the most is that you reach your destination.

“Many doors can be closed to you, but there will be some doors open. Try to use those doors to go where you want to be,” he advised.

Okubamichael now has his sights on obtaining his doctorate and thereafter doing research work for an academic institution.

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