My name is Attal Shams (Hanufi) I was born in Afghanistan, I am a ‘Child of War’. I am here to share with you my personal journey, and the impact of Power of Potential and the infinite opportunities that education can offer. It will be very hard to surmise my whole experience on one sheet of paper, however, I will deliberate on the foremost important things.
Let’s take a deep breath and imagine a young boy barely 8 years old, growing up amongst the crashing echoes of the Cold War and the heart wrenching sights of conflict. My dad held a very high post within the military then, and his military vehicle was blown up while he was being chauffeured to work. It was at this juncture that my family had to flee to escape the relentless turmoil that threatened our existence. It was a time of unconceivable hardship, where my childhood was robbed off me. I became an adult overnight as I had to fend for my family. My dad was the sole provider for the family and mum was a housewife. So, losing him in that tragic manner, instantly changed our circumstances and predicaments. We had to eat, clothe ourselves, pay bills and so forth; that took a heavy toll on us and me in particular, as I was the eldest child. So, at the age of 13, my innocence was replaced with insurmountable responsibilities.
I embarked on a journey to pastures green, which took me across unforgiving landscapes, through hazardous borders and into unknown territories. I worked tirelessly, had to learn new languages quickly to bode in well with the local population, in Central Asia and consequently, in Russia. In hindsight, I was a child labourer being exploited. In the late 90s, Russia was a dangerous place to live, and there I was denied my fundamental human rights to education while being a teenager and faced the constant fear of danger. But through it all, I gripped to hope that one day I might be able to have access to education, like any another normal child, and perhaps change my life forever.
The hazardous path I took from Russia, eventually brought me to the UK and I entered the country illegally at the back of the lorry. I must emphasise the reason I chose here; it was because of the fundamental values of this land that is defined for. A true democracy, rule of law, tolerance and most importantly the Generosity, Compassion and Kindness of ordinary British people, as well as the government policies at that time, where I was not just granted asylum, but also was given the opportunity to pursue my education, something that I could never have imagined.
I poured my heart into my studies whilst working in various sectors to make a living, from picking spring onions to green peas and takeaways, but I was lucky enough to receive an offer from one of the UK’s prestigious universities, The University of Warwick. I admit my bias towards Warwick beforehand because it gave me so much. Warwick equipped me with critical thinking, and the ability to be able to think outside of the box. It also empowered me with knowledge and understanding, and more importantly, to be compassionate. All the aforementioned and my qualifications, helped put me in a good stead, to contribute back to society. Education became my lifeline, and it was at Warwick that I discovered a purpose—a calling to help others like me, to pave the way for those who believe in the power of learning to transform their lives.
I can still vividly remember, my last exam for my BA degree which was on the 24th of May 2016. I had my interview the next day with an NGO operating in Greece. There I was tasked with helping the Syrian refugees in Athens. I flew the following week. My Warwick degrees enabled me to help the most vulnerable people who just like me fled wars. The University of Warwick holds a special place in my heart, not just for what it has done for me, but for what it represents—a sanctuary where dreams are nurtured, potential is unlocked, and futures are shaped.
In March 2020, I was offered to work with the Afghan government under the tutelage of President Ashraf Ghani. I was the Director of International Affairs at the Presidential Palace. A position I held until collapse of the government in August 2021. During my time there, I was fortunate enough to have met in person or via zoom calls some of the most influential people in the world, one person in particular, was Bill Gates.
I stand here today not as an individual but a testament to the thousands of dreams that have been touched by the power of education. With me are students from Warwick University, living proof of the emotional journey that is social mobility through education. Their stories are etched with struggles, resilience, and the overwhelming emotion of triumph over adversity.
Today, I lead the Head of Adult, Access to Higher Education, and Counselling at Macclesfield College and I am a Board Member for one of UK’s largest Higher Education Awarding Body AIMs Qualification, and assessment group while also guiding adults toward their potential.
At Macclesfield College we offer amazing opportunities for both adults and young learners. In particular we are dedicated to helping our adult students succeed, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our goal is to give them the skills and support they need for a brighter future and to make a positive impact on society. I am incredibly proud to be a part of this mission at Macclesfield college.
I have quite few positive remarks from my adult students at Macclesfield college that I could read here but John’s appreciation stood out for me. Who was expelled from school at early age and denied the opportunity to pursue his education.
Attal, you have been inspirational throughout. I have learned so much from you
both academically and about the world beyond the classroom. Thank you for
shining a light on the power of education Good Luck in development of the Access
to HE programs. You really are an asset to the college.
“I once had tutor with great fashion.
better than that, was his passion.
He travelled and gathered, Much Knowledge.
Which was shared with us at Mac College.
But sometimes he put socks that would clash on!”
(John’s appreciation card 2023)
I implore you to feel the weight of this moment, the depth of emotion in “The Power of Potential.” Let us stand united in our mission to champion policies and initiatives that break down barriers to education and ensure that every heart, every soul, and every dream is given the chance to shine.
Thank you for listening and may our collective journey toward a brighter future be guided by the compassionate heart of education. Thank you.