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‘If you’re black and from Africa, you’re either stupid or poor’

30 October 2020
Waheed Adam
Waheed Adam

Bachelor degree programmes like Global Responsibility & Leadership work best with a highly international student population. Zimbabwean Waheed Adam came to Leeuwarden, where this programme is offered, thanks to a grant from the UCF Foundation.

Text: Ellis Ellenbroek

The first thing that Waheed Adam did after moving into his room in Leeuwarden this summer was to hang up his country’s flag. The yellow, green, black and red colours of Zimbabwe make a prominent backdrop when I Skype him. Adam (20) tells me how beautiful his country is, and how beautiful Africa and its people are. He wants to use the knowledge and experience he will acquire in Leeuwarden to make Zimbabwe a better place. ‘Adam is studying for a bachelor’s degree in Global Responsibility & Leadership, a three-year degree programme established with the United Nations’ sustainability goals in mind,’ explains Indira van der Zande. She is programme director at University College Fryslân, which offers the degree programme. Students take courses in subjects like global health, political science and earth systems and specialize in one of three majors: Responsible Governance, Responsible Planet or Responsible Humanity. The idea is that they will form a kind of ‘mini-UN’, or as Van der Zande puts it: ‘students from all around the world who learn from each other and then go back to their country to share their knowledge.'


Most of the current batch of 150 students, however, are from the Netherlands and the EU because the tuition fees (12,000 euros) are usually too high for students from further afield. University College Fryslân has therefore launched the UCF Foundation, which is affiliated with the UG’s Ubbo Emmius Fund. The Foundation, which hopes to expand, began offering one-off grants of 6000 euros in 2019. Adam is the first African recipient. He asks me to report that he is looking for more sponsors or a job so that he can pay for his full three years. Adam, who uses crutches, wrote in his introduction letter to the UCF Foundation: ‘My mind could accomplish more milestones than anyone's legs ever could.’ Adam hopes to become a leader. Last year he was youth mayor of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. But he does not aspire to a political career in Zimbabwe, where corruption is the order of the day. He would prefer a diplomatic job or a position with an NGO, focusing on human rights or the position of women. Adam calls himself an Afro-feminist. He explains that his childhood has made him very aware of women’s issues. When his single mother died suddenly in 2004, he was raised by his grandmother, who was mother, grandmother and father to him. To ensure that he received the best possible physiotherapy, his grandmother closed her hair salon and moved with her grandson to Harare. By investing in his future in the faraway Netherlands, he wants to repay his grandmother, both financially and symbolically.


Adam is familiar with the prejudices: ‘If you’re black and from Africa, you’re either stupid or poor.’ He wants to show off the richness of African culture, customs and ideas. I see thick dreadlocks, a colourful tunic and a necklace of wooden beads, very different from the close-cropped haircut and light shirt that he sported in the photo accompanying his cover letter. I ask him whether the Afro look is a conscious choice, a way of emphasising his roots here in Leeuwarden. He reflects for a moment and then grins, ‘You may be right. But how I look is also my identity and who I am.’

Ubbo Emmius Fonds

You can help students like Waheed Adam by making a donation through, or via direct transfer to IBAN NL37TRIO0784906009.

Last modified:30 October 2020 12.44 p.m.

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