Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Education her tool for survival

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Haajima Degia has faced many obstacles and detractors but that has only made her resolve stronger. Instead of being browbeaten she has used her biggest weapon to her advantage – her brain.

Hajra (as she prefers to be called) is in her early 40s and the lecturer has several educational achievements, including a bachelor’s degree in sociology and political science (University of the West Indies, Cave Hill) a master’s in international development and international affairs (Ohio University) and a PhD in sociology (UWI, 2014).

The mum of three successfully pursued an associate’s degree in sociology and French at the Barbados Community College (BCC) at a time when the thought of a Muslim girl pursuing an education beyond the secondary level was scoffed at.

“When I came to BCC, I was probably like the second or third person from my community to have sought out a tertiary education,” she said.

 “ . . . .This was a time when people from your own community would be telling my parents, ‘You know that’s a mistake you are making; you don’t want her going out there into the world’.”

In a recent interview with EASY at BCC, where she teaches sociology, Harja recalled her childhood of growing up in Kings Street, The City. Her family was not rich, and after her mother passed she found a way to cement her independence.

“I did not set out to be a pioneer of anything, I just was trying to survive many times. I saw education as a form of survival, because we weren’t rich, we weren’t the average rich Muslim family and I kept saying to myself. If I don’t find something to do, what would happen to me?’

“I was never able to tolerate society telling me what to do. Yes, you have boundaries, but I couldn’t deal with people telling me what to do and what they are telling you to do would keep you in submission  – it was never liberating,” she said.

Her choice to avidly pursue her education generated a buzz within her community, as did her marriage to a Black Muslim, to whom she has been married for 16 years.

“People stare at us especially if they can’t tell that he’s Muslim . . . . Many people ask us, ‘How that happened?’

She said within her own community she has also faced discrimination, such as “subtle” racism.

“It has been challenging, but I didn’t foresee it to be otherwise. I went into it with my eyes wide open because I was already so independent, and the community might have gossiped about me but they couldn’t come to my face and tell me anything,” she said.

After focusing most of her energy on her family and studies, she now has more time to help give back and help others in her work as a sociologist.

“Sociology helps us to uncover the hidden aspects of a society – things that are not to the forefront. So how do we deal with issues like violence among young people, violence in schools crime, racism or sexism or violence against people who are sexually different? We can only deal with them if we understand that society helps us to deal with understanding.” (TG)

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