News 2024-01-10

Meet our student. Interview with Hager Eissa, Obama Foundation Leader

By Elias Ikola & Gabriela Adamczyk

The Vienna Master of Arts in Applied Human Rights was established to cultivate brave and engaged human rights practitioners. However, some of our students have already become change-makers. Meet Hager Eissa Abdallah Mohammed from Generation 12, a member of the Obama Leader cohort for 2023 at the Obama Foundation, Ambassador at One Young World and the World Literacy Foundation, who was recognized within the 100 under 40  Most Influential People of African Descent at MIPAD in support of the United Nations.


To begin, let’s consider a fundamental question: How would you describe yourself?

When asked about an introduction of myself, it always brings a lot of thoughts because, for me, the primary thing is that I’m from Sudan. I was born and raised in the capital city – Khartoum; however, my parents are originally from Darfur, which is located in the west region of Sudan. In 2016, I graduated from Peace University, where I studied languages and translation. I’m interested in activism, human rights, women’s rights, democracy, as well as gender equality. I have been working in those fields for over 8 years, and I had the privilege to try a lot of different things and enjoy the changes. I always keep it on the positive side, follow my guts, and see where life will take me. In my free time, I love painting, photography, modeling, and fashion, and I’m passionate about horseback riding.

As you mentioned, you already have an exceptional experience in the field of human rights. Can you share what inspired you to choose this path?

Coming from Sudan has been quite challenging. It’s a country with a long history of human rights violations, dating back to our former president’s tenure. The Darfur region, my family’s origin, has endured over 50 years of human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, and a lack of education. During my childhood, my parents shared stories about their experiences growing up there.

In 2007, I made the decision to visit this region. I spent approximately 2 months there, exploring refugee camps. A decade later, when I became involved in peace and reconciliation projects, I revisited it. My primary goal was to raise awareness among refugees about the meaning of human rights and encourage them to resist discrimination, advocating for their rights. But being there, I realized I couldn’t solely focus on my origins. This led me to broaden my perspective and gain a more comprehensive understanding of human rights.

And in order to broaden your impact, you’ve established an organization, correct? Could you share more about “It’s All About You Queens”?

It began in February of last year. My aim was to empower women to realize their inspirations and dreams by connecting with other women globally. To make this connection possible, I had to establish a platform. I interview women who have already brought about positive change in their communities and are willing to assist others navigating similar journeys. They share insights into the obstacles they encountered. Facing challenges in life is normal; what matters is how we choose to overcome them and turn them into motivation. This can help us in achieving our aspirations.

The first woman I had the opportunity to interview was Yara Shahidi. She has significantly impacted her community through acting, and that resonated strongly with me. This moment served as a defining point for me to continue with the organization.

The story doesn’t end here. You’re also involved with the Obama Foundation. Could you share a bit about the foundation and how you became a member?

The Obama Foundation was founded by the Obamas right after the presidency. I have always found it appealing how much effort they put into the organization. Both of them aimed to assist the younger generation engaged in social fields or working towards social change in communities.

The Obama Foundation opens applications every October, focusing on selecting 35 applicants or leaders from each continent. They seek individuals who are actively pursuing solutions and striving to bring about social change. I would say it’s an incredible organization dedicated to supporting youth on a global scale.

This year, you are also holding a special role in this organization. How did you become an Obama Leader?

I am currently an Obama Alumni/Leader, a designation I earned this past June upon successfully completing the comprehensive program offered by the Obama Foundation. Throughout the program, participants engage in a transformative six-month journey, guided by mentors who specialize in human rights activism, music, self-expression, and leadership development.

To attain the esteemed status of an Obama Foundation Alumni and Leader, commitment and active participation in all program meetings are imperative. This dedication ensures a thorough understanding and embodiment of the principles and values championed by the foundation.

Upon program completion, a momentous graduation convening took place, marking a historic occasion in Athens. President Obama conducted sessions with representatives from three regions—Africa, Asia Pacific, and Europe. During this year’s convening, all 105 leaders came together for a two-week intensive program, fostering connections, knowledge-sharing, and collaborative discussions. This unique gathering served as a platform for us, as Obama Leaders, to strengthen our bonds, exchange ideas, and explore avenues for cooperation. As a collective force committed to driving positive change in our communities and beyond, we left the convening inspired and ready to contribute to a better future.

The continuation of the interview is under the video.

This must be extremely demanding, but hopefully also filled with excitement. Can you share the best moment this experience brought to you?

Definitely meeting President Obama. For me, he is a true inspiration. I have considered him a role model ever since he became president. I remember, in 2016, I published a post on my Facebook with a picture saying, “I know I will meet you one day, I don’t know how or when, but I know it will happen.” I still have a screenshot of that post, and every time I look at it, it brings to me the motivating thought that we can make things happen as long as we truly put our minds to it.

Besides meeting President Obama, I also cherish all the moments I could spend with the eight Obama Leaders from the same parts of Africa. It was an amazing opportunity for me to connect with them and also with the Europe and Asia Pacific leaders. I’ve participated in numerous events over time, and often, meeting new people at conferences left me wondering: “Will I truly connect with them? Will we actually have meaningful conversations?” However, when encountering those leaders, the experience was different. It just felt like we already knew each other, and I find that really amazing. It’s not easy to find that kind of connection, but it also gives us all the feeling that we are all together in this. This has taught us a lot. From all the mentors and mentorships we had, we learned about things that I never would have imagined coming across in my life. So, for me, that kind of connection is something that I would never take for granted.

Did all of it lead you towards doing your masters in Applied Human Rights? What are your expectations from the program?

I perceive this master’s program as more practical than other studies. Through my background, I’ve gained some theoretical understanding, but I’m always eager to learn more. I’ve been inclined towards applying knowledge and translating it into action. This program presents an opportunity to merge my existing ideas with new ones, paving the way for future experiences and aligning with my career aspirations.

What I am counting on the most during my studies is just meeting people and learning. I believe that learning is a journey that never ends. Also, I am seeking a lot of inspiration and motivation to become the kind of human rights activist I always wanted to be.

In the end, could you share with us what your dream is?

Mostly, I wish to see my country, Sudan, in peace. I dream of being the person who can make the change I have always desired, the one who can offer help. My parents always told me that my happiness depends on seeing others smile, so I aspire to be that pencil that draws smiles on people’s faces. I dream of becoming a better person, reaching out to my aspirations, and assisting those in need.

Image and video courtesy of CNN.


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