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A year and a half ago, Syrian-born Mustafa Zakreet was in a refugee camp in Lebanon waiting to come to Canada. While there, he learned a valuable lesson about the power of education – one that has stayed with him as he and his family have built a new life in Salmon Arm.
Although trained as a railroad engineer, Zakreet – then only 23 – immediately put his university education to work teaching English to young children in the camp.
“I was inspired at how, despite their circumstances, these Kindergartners were so genuinely excited about learning,” explains Zakreet. “I saw how learning gave them hope for the future, just as it did for me."
Eighteen months and a great deal of hard work later, Zakreet is one of nearly 40 students who were recognized at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus awards ceremony on June 21.
It was a big night for students at the Salmon Arm campus. All told, more than $65,000 in scholarships and bursaries was awarded to 38 individuals that evening.
“This event is truly one of the highlights of the year for all of us at the Salmon Arm campus,” says Regional Dean Joan Ragsdale, who emceed the ceremony. “It is a chance to witness first-hand the impact that community support has on our students. I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the many donors who make these awards possible and congratulations to each of the award recipients.”
This year’s recipients spanned a vast array of programs – Arts, Science, Business, Health, Trades, Technologies, Continuing Studies, Adult Special Education and others. Equally diverse were their backgrounds, with some students living steps away from campus and diving straight into their first year of College fresh out of high school, while others – like Zakreet – took a longer route to reach OC.
After fleeing his war-torn birthplace of Homs in central Syria, Zakreet landed as a refugee in Salmon Arm with his family in 2015. Over the past year and a half, he has voraciously pursued upgrading at the College in pursuit of his lifelong goal of becoming an engineer.
All that hard work has paid off for Zakreet. This fall, he’ll make another journey – a much shorter one this time – when he moves from Salmon Arm to begin the Civil Engineering Technology program at the College’s Kelowna campus.
“Being part of Okanagan College has been an amazing experience,” says Zakreet. “I have made so many friends here and have felt so welcomed. I feel connected to the community and feel at home here.”
Zakreet was one of six students who received an Al Neale Bursary this year. The warm welcome he has received in Salmon Arm was evidenced again in the eruption of cheers in the room when he was called up to the stage to receive the award.
A donor for more than a decade, Neale personally handed out his awards and spoke about his pride at being able to grow the award fund over the years from two bursaries in 2008 to six bursaries this year. He singled out Zakreet during his address, praising the newcomer to Canada for his hard work and dedication.
“I wish all of this year’s recipients the very best for their future,” said Neale. “And I would especially like to commend Mustafa on all his success and his goals for the future. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I greatly look forward to hearing about what he accomplishes next as he chases his dream of becoming an engineer.”
It’s safe to say those words of encouragement have further motivated Zakreet in chasing that dream.
“To have someone like Mr. Neale support me in my studies feels wonderful,” notes Zakreet. “There are no words for how grateful I am.”
“I’m also incredibly excited for the next chapter. Getting the call and finding out I was accepted into the Civil program in Kelowna was an incredible feeling. I can’t wait to start.”