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A Journey from Iraq –by Tariq Al Aabed

My name is Tariq Ahmad Aabed or Al Aabed as I am always called. I am a Medical doctor from Mosul city, in Iraq. Mosul, also called Habda after the famous minaret, is the largest city in northern Iraq and the second largest city in the country.  Mosul is home to a large oil refinery but its productivity was severely hindered during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.  Most of the urban population is Arab, but the surrounding rural areas have some Kurdish population.  I have 5 brothers and 2 sisters. I graduated from Mosul college of Medicine in 2000. I have had an interest in Oncology and cancer treatment since college.

My story started in 2006.  After graduation, I decided to look for any scholarship or training course outside Iraq, to help our country. My best friend Omar Abdullatif (also a Medical Doctor) applied to study a MSc in Diagnostic Radiology at Oxford university in 2006/2007, and he was accepted.  He travelled to the UK, and this made me so sad, because Omar for me is not only friend, he is actually like my brother, and I was very happy for him, but sad for myself.  This made me so determined to look for any chance of a scholarship to study in the UK, my favourite country, so I applied for a MSc course in Oncology at Nottingham University, and I got an offer from them.  But who would sponsor me? 

I checked by internet, and I discovered that the MBI Al Jaber Foundation scholarships programme was open to Iraqis, so I decided to apply for a course. I searched for any course in oncology and cancer research and found a full time MSc course at UCL, a European MSc in Radiation Biology. But what is Radiation Biology? It is the science which would change my whole life.....

I waited for the result of my UCL application. I really remember how the Foundation, represented by both Carolyn and Marylyn at that time, was so cooperative with me. They even accepted my papers before the result of TOEFL test which I did in Erbil City in Iraq.

I got the conditional offer from UCL. The surprise was in July 2007, when I got an e-mail from Marylyn and she told me that I had been selected by the MBI Al Jaber Foundation for an interview. I can’t explain my feeling on getting this letter, but I can say that it was one of the happiest days in my life which I will never forget. I returned to my house and I told my wife that the MBI Foundation had offered to give me a scholarship. She felt very happy, as all my family did. I prepared everything to travel to Amman, Jordan for the final interview.

My interview was on Friday 24th August 2007 at The Golden Tulip Grand Palace Hotel, Amman. I went to the place and met with Marylyn, with a smiling face. She welcomed me, and we sat in the reception. She introduced me to a nice girl from Iraq too. Her name was Bushra and she was a pharmacist from Sulaymaniyah in the North of Iraq. She was accepted to study at Westminster University. We talked with Marylyn about the TOEFL examination, since the result was still pending.  Carolyn then met us and we were taken to the interview.

During the interview they asked me about everything regarding my personal information, my university, my study, what would I do after this MSc? Why did I choose Oncology? If you were offered a chance to study for a PhD would you take it or refuse it? I told them I will return back to help the Iraqi people, and if I get any chance which will help Iraq (like a PhD or fellowship or training.. etc), definitely I will complete it and then return back. I spoke frankly and in truthfulness with them. They really appreciated my talking and fully supported me to complete my study in Oncology. They were well aware of the acute deficiency in Oncologist and Radiotherapists in all Iraq generally, and in Mosul specifically.

After the interview I returned to Iraq. Carolyn called me at 9pm and told me that they had selected me to study at UCL.  One week later, Carolyn phoned me.  She told me I didn’t need the results of the TOEFL. The Foundation had decided to admit me onto an Inter Session English Course at UCL and would  pay for the course... Wow it was amazing. This Foundation is too good.

I prepared everything to travel with my wife... but suddenly something happened, really I don’t want here to talk about what happened, but I didn’t travel... I remained in Mosul Oncology Hospital working as Oncology resident and main secretary of Mosul Hospital. 

Sometime later I contacted the MBI Foundation to see if my scholarship was still valid. They told me just try to get my unconditional offer from UCL. Again this Foundation surprised me, after one year they still wanted to help me. I was given a place at UCL and once again the Foundation agreed to support my studies with a scholarship.

I arrived in London on the 10th October 2008. It was a Friday, one of the most important days in my life, and my friend Omar was waiting for me at the airport. We drove to Langton Close student accommodation in Wren Street near Grays Inn. That night I got a call from one student who said that her name was Nicole and she would meet me near the Euston Square underground station, near UCL, with the other students.  On Monday, I was there , and I met with my new course colleagues.  There were 6 girls and me. 

Although my course was based in London I travelled to different parts of Europe to attend important lectures including Holland, where I took many pictures of windmills which are so common, Brussels, Salzburg and Munich. I also returned to Iraq briefly mid way through the course. 

In Brussels we took lectures in Radiotherapy, Nuclear Medicine, Medical physics at UCL(University Catholique De Lovain) and attended ESTRO PREVENT meeting (Prediction, Recognition, Evaluation and Eradication of Normal Tissue effects) which involved the most famous radiobiologist and radiotherapist. It was amazing. The most important event for me in Brussels was meeting with Head of ESMO (European School of Medical Oncology) task force for the Middle East, Dr. Adamos Adamou. He is a great man, really, I was very happy to meet him and to explain to him the oncology situation in Iraq and Mosul city.

We travelled to Salzburg for a module. It was to study the effect of Radon on the environment and on health. We also went to Germany and took many lectures in the Radiotherapy Department of the Technical University of Munich. The two events, which were so important and unique, were attending the EURATOM CARDIORISK work shop in the pathology department and visiting the Isar Nuclear Power Plant.

When I returned to Iraq I found that the situation in Mosul city was not good. I put my family in safe place and told them to apply for a dependents visa for the UK.  They applied through Syria, and they got it. Professor Trott, who organised my course, very kindly told me that his wife would offer me and my family her flat in London. He is very great man - always trying to help every student, especially me. I completed my course and eventually returned to my home.

I am now an assistant lecturer of Radiation oncology at the Radiology Department, the Mosul College of Medicine. Last year I gave lectures to undergraduate students at the Mosul College of Medicine, MSc Medical Physics (Radioisotopes and Radioactivity) students and MSc students and Diploma students from the College of Dentistry (Radiation protection). My clinic is part of Mosul University. Part of our income goes to the University and part to helping poor patients through treatment, for free.

Finally, I want to thanks some people:

- The MBI Al Jaber Foundation, represented by Sheikh Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber, and Carolyn who extended the scholarship to the next year, and all other MBI staff like Arwad and Suhad.

- Professor Trott, course organizer, for his advice and help. He is really the father of this course. And his wife, for her kindness to offer me her very nice flat, may God bless her.

- Prof. John Hartley, chair of the cancer institute at UCL, for his support and for providing me with a letter to British Embassy in Syria to facilitate visa issue.

- My colleagues on this course for their support and for good times.

- My best friend, Dr.Omar Abdullatif, for his help and assistance always.

- And special thanks for my Mother, and my little sister, who always supported me. Without their prayers I couldn’t have reached London as a MSc student.



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