Graduating against the odds
A mother of two from Harlow was among 1500 students who graduated from City University London this week at a series of ceremonies held in the capital.
46 year-old Zainab Hannafi, who lives on Riversmill, completed her undergraduate degree in International Politics, after moving to London from Nigeria 20 years ago with the hope of gaining an education for herself and her two sons.
She says that a degree in International Politics particularly appealed to her:
"I've always been passionate about international relations. We live in a global village where political decisions made in one country can affect another country far away and I wanted to understand the impact of global wars on natural resources, such as land, oil and water.
"Growing up in Nigeria I witnessed the impact of the discovery of oil on local communities. I wanted to understand the importance of this so called 'black gold' and why oil has caused so much conflict around the world.
"I was also particularly interested to find out more about international governmental organisations such as the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. I wanted to study something that would really allow me to make a difference to the world."
For Zainab, attending university was something that she had always dreamed of, but not something she thought would be possible.
"I grew up in the northern part of Nigeria, where a girl's education was never a priority. As a young woman, education was always something I desperately wanted and always at the top of my agenda.
"I was lucky that my mother was from the west of the country and she pushed for me to be able to attend secondary school. But at age 17 my father decided I should marry. The marriage ultimately broke down and by the time I was 21 I was divorced with two young sons to take care of.
"I moved to London in 1991 and made the difficult decision to leave my young children behind with my parents so that I could send money back home to support their education. Over the years I worked hard in a number of jobs, including as a cleaner and database administrator in order to pay for them to attend good schools back in Nigeria.
"I paid for my eldest son to go to university in the UK and I'm very proud of him. He now has a Masters in International Marketing and a very good job. My younger son is still in Nigeria, where he is studying at university as well."
Zainab says that studying was hard work, but worth it in the long-run and that she would not change it for the whole world.
"While I always wanted to go to university, I was working too much and it was too expensive when I was paying for my son's education. After my eldest son graduated from his Bachelor degree a few years back, I decided it was my turn to pursue my dream - it was time for 'Mummy' to go to university.
"Studying wasn't easy and at times I found it really difficult, I worked as a minicab driver while getting my degree and often it was hard to balance work and study, but in the end I'm very proud to have finally completed a university degree. I'm very lucky to have had very supportive lecturers at City who encouraged me to keep working hard.
"It is never too late to study and I've shown my sons my transcript. In the end I got a 2.2 and they are both very proud of their mum graduating from university. Now that I've got this far I don't want to stop, I'm thinking about applying for a Masters," says Zainab.