From Sabratah in western Libya to Stellenbosch in the Boland in South Africa.
This is the journey that Dr Eman Teer had to travel to complete her doctorate in Physiological Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU).
Having done research on the how inflammation and blood clotting increase the prevalence of heart disease among HIV-positive patients, she obtained her degree on Monday at SU’s first graduation ceremony of December 2017.
She was among the 639 students in the Faculty of Science who received their degrees at the ceremony. A record number of 5 720 degrees, certificates and diplomas will be awarded this week at the December graduation.
It is 420 qualifications more than in December 2016, and 700 more than in December 2015. The December total includes 142 doctoral and 545 Master's degrees.
Teer, who worked as a medical doctor in Sabratah, has reached the pinnacle of academic success but her road was not always paved with rose-petals.
Following the Arab Spring protests in 2011, her home country Libya was plunged into a civil war. In an instant, Teer’s world was turned upside down.
“When the war broke out, it was very difficult for me and my daughters, especially the youngest one. My husband, Emad, was already in Stellenbosch working on his doctorate. He arrived here in 2010.”
“The war was close to our city.”
With her own future and that of her three daughters at stake, Teer left her country and made the long trek southward.
“It wasn’t easy to get out of Libya,” she says. “My husband came to fetch us, but he couldn’t get into the country.”
“My brother had to drive us to Tunisia where we were able to meet my husband.”
There’s a tinge of sadness in her voice when she speaks about leaving her country and her extended family.
“I have seven sisters and two brothers and it was very hard for me to leave them behind.”
“I’m worried about my relatives and my family. Sometimes I found out through Facebook that some of my relatives have died. It’s not easy for me.”
Despite this, Teer remains upbeat that things will change for the better in her country.
For now, she is making the most of her time in Stellenbosch and happy to see her daughters doing well.
“My oldest daughter Sarah is a first year BSc student at Stellenbosch University; Tasneem just finished her matric exams at Rhenish High School while Ream is in Rhenish Primary School.”
When asked about her time in South Africa, her face lights up and she grins from ear to ear.
“I like South Africa very much; I love the people and especially the diversity of the people. I have met nice people and this, together with a very good environment, helped me to finish my studies. South Africa is a good place.”
“I’m very lucky to do my research in Stellenbosch. Even if you have problems, you see the support of your colleagues and your professor.”
Teer says she is grateful for the support of her supervisor Prof Faadiel Essop and his team.
“Prof Essop has been profoundly supportive of me.”
She also speaks in glowing terms of the support and encouragement of her husband to whom she has been happily married for 22 years. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in SU’s Department of Industrial Engineering.
“He has helped me a lot with many things and continues to do so.”
Teer also acknowledges her family’s support after she arrived in South Africa. As a person of faith, she strongly believes that God helped her along the way.
As someone who never gives up, Teer believes that women have to fight for their future. “Women can change a lot either in Libya, the Middle East, South Africa, everywhere. I talk a lot about this with my daughters.”
Teer says she hopes to one day reciprocate all that her homeland has done for her. “I want to make a difference in the lives of my people.”
In the meantime, she enjoys life in Stellenbosch and plans to do postdoctoral research next year.
At the same ceremony, Prof Len Barbour of the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science and Mr Neels Fourie of the Division of Academic Administration received Chancellor’s Awards.
* This article was orginally written for Stellenbosch University
- Cape Argus