DUABI // Najath Manzil Ahmed Hasan's favourite spot in the city is Dubai Public Library. The building's contents have been his constant companions for many years. While keeping their company, Mr Hasan rose from being a man with barely any schooling to being recognised by his community for his dedication to education.
Mr Hasan took five years to teach himself English while he worked towards an online master of business administration (MBA) degree and doctorate. In that time, he filled several odd jobs - from cashier to toy seller - to make money so he could pay for computer classes. "I didn't even touch a computer key before that," he said. Now thousands of young men look to his journey as an example of how to succeed in life. Mr Hasan was recently honoured for his dedication to education by the Green Voices, Calicut, an organisation of young professionals from Kerala that promotes the environment.
"He is a special character," said Adbul Shukkor, 35, an administrator with a contracting company and the chairman of Green Voices. "This is to show that someone who works in a cafeteria and puts in so many hours can still do the impossible. If he can do it, anyone can. He makes us feel like we can achieve our goals too." Mr Hasan realised early in life that education provided opportunities to move ahead in life. But personal turmoil kept him from it.
His father, TK Hasan Musliyar, was a Muslim scholar in Kerala and taught Islamic studies at the Nadapuram mosque. "My birthplace was renowned for communal and sectarian violence for long time," Mr Hasan said. "Many people lost their lives in riots." After leaving high school, Mr Hasan was forced to find work to support his family after his father fell ill. He started working in grocery stores and as a telephone operator. Then his uncle offered him an opportunity to work in the UAE. He helped Mr Hasan to get a visa to Dubai, and he left behind his ailing father and family.
Mr Hasan, now 40, arrived in Dubai in 1994 to work at a small toy shop in Deira. At that time, he brought one of his favourite possessions - a book that he did not then understand completely. It was the Concise Oxford Dictionary, in English. He carried it for many years and, after many hours in the library, slowly the words on the pages started to come alive. His method was to read Malayalam newspapers, then compare similar reports in the English papers. The dictionary was the key to understanding the meaning of the words.
From the toy store, he went to work at a bakery in Ajman as a cashier in 1999, where he earned Dh2,000 (US$540) a month. Of that, he sent Dh750 home. The rest he used for "my expenses and for books". After two years of spending 12 hours a week in the library, his English was good enough for computer classes. In 2005, he began work on his degree. Mr Hasan saved enough money to start a business with friends. He left the bakery in 2007 and pooled his money with four others to start a canteen in Dubai that serves food to men living here without their families. Their situation is familiar to Mr Hasan, whose wife and four children live in India. The eldest, Abdul Aziz, 14, is mentally challenged. The second son, Abdul Rahim, 10, usually takes his father's advice on education.
"I told him, if you study hard you can also be like me," Mr Hasan said. I give him advice on how to use a computer, and on what to study. He wants to work with computers. So he takes tutorials and works on the computer I bought for the family." When Mr Hasan visits the family once a year, he sticks to his routine and studies into the night at least twice a week. He said his wife did not object. "She is very helpful," he said. "She makes no problems for me when I study at home."
The MBA is his realisation of getting ahead in life while working almost 13 hours a day to make the canteen profitable. He hopes to work in marketing day, preferably switching careers to something that will include the use of information technology and computers. "Normally cafeteria people are looked down upon," he said. "Their prolonged duties for other people's daily needs is considered not to be valuable. But if there is a will, every thing is possible.
"Even cafeteria people think of themselves as people who were condemned to such a job due to their dearth of education. So they submit to their fate. I am able to prove that the fact is on the other side." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org For more in this series, visit www.thenational.ae/people
1. International Bibliography of Business History by Francis Goodall, Terry Gourvish and Steven Tolliday (eds). 2. Marketing Research: An International Approach by Marcus J. Schmidt and Svend Hollense 3. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare 4. The poetry of Ka'b Ibn Malik. 5. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling