By Arkan Yousef

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I am Arkan Yousef, totally blind. Date of birth 1959, born in Iraq, and English is my third language.

I have a bachelor’s degree in the Department of Mathematics at the College of Education, Al-Mustansiriyah University in Iraq, in the academic Year 1981/1982. I taught high school mathematics from 1982-1988, while continuing my university studies and completed my master’s degree in mathematics in 1986.

I continued to teach at Al-Mustansiriyah University, at technology TAFE, and at high school until the end of 1999. At which point it was too dangerous to stay and teach, fearing life in my hostile home country, my family and I had to escape and flee Iraq to Greece-Athens in January 2000, because of some problems with the government in the time of Saddam’s regime and then to Australia in 2006.

During this time, I started to lose my sight from the end of 1999 and within 12 months, I had completely lost my sight. I have never found out what caused my blindness.

Losing my sight was one of the biggest hardships, in addition to the war in Iraq and having to flee the Saddam regime with my family (my parents and sister) but my enthusiasm and my positive outlook in life has not stopped me from achieving my goals.

I migrated to Australia on Monday, 4th of March 2006, and since arriving in Australia, despite my vision impairment, I have completed the following studies:

  • 2010, Liverpool TAFE NSW, Tertiary Preparation course Certificate IV in English.
  • 2013, Liverpool TAFE NSW Certificate III in Information, Digital Media and Technology.
  • 2019, Master of Science (Mathematical and Statistical Modelling) University of Technology Sydney UTS.
  • 2021 Master of Philosophy in Science, University of Technology Sydney UTS.

My next academic goal is to complete a PhD in Mathematics.

In 2011, I commenced volunteer work teaching mathematics at Liverpool Migrant Resource Centre and at Fairfield Library to assist students with their homework in mathematics. I taught mathematics in three languages: Arabic, English and Chaldean.

Between April and December 2015, I initiated a homework program for high school students at St Thomas Church, Bossley Park to help them with their mathematics. Throughout 2013 to 2018, as a volunteer, I taught people who are blind at Vision Australia basic computer skills and how to use adaptive technology software. In 2013, I started volunteering in nursing home at Quarry Road Bossley Park, NSW up until now to give residents hope and love in this life.

As a result of my dedication to community service I have been recognised with numerous awards of appreciation and service, including 2021 Blind Australian of the Year finalist and a finalist in the Pride of Australia Award 2013.

It is my passion to continue my work in mathematics and provide professional tutoring services.

From 2010 until the end of 2020, nearly every day I met 4 to 5 people during my travels to my volunteer job or study at TAFE/university. I talk with them about what I am doing to have a good life.

My disability doesn’t stop me or let me give up, but encourages me to find myself by challenging myself, inspiring others, and sharing the faith.

I want to prove to everyone that people with disabilities – especially people who are blind – can do a lot more than they expect.

I am blind, yes, but it doesn’t stop me from continuing in life.

I have a strong determination to help others and I refuse to let my blindness stop me from doing what I love.

I want to show Australians that regardless of where you come from or what obstacles you face, you can, with determination, fulfil your dreams.

Since 2011, I have been trying so hard to find an opportunity to work in any area, teaching mathematics but without success. This entire situation has led me to challenge all the people who are saying: You are blind, and your term is finished!

In 2023, I aimed to start my PhD in mathematics education to achieve my goals. When people ask me the reason for continuing my studies at this age, I respond:
“I want to show everyone in Australia that you have every opportunity to fulfil your dreams in this beautiful country. It doesn’t matter what your background is, what your abilities or disabilities are, and what your age is – you have all the help available to achieve your goals in life”.

There are famous people who are blind and that did not stop them from achieving their goals, such as Louis Braille (invented Braille), Helen Keller (writer), Stevie Wonder (singer), Ray Charles (singer), Jacob Bolotin (Medicine), and Abraham Nemeth, who developed a system that would teach blind students to read and write mathematics. There are politicians, writers, composers, artists and performers, adventurers, engineers, activists and hundreds more that are blind and never give up because of their disability.

I have a threefold purpose:
1. To challenge others as I achieve my goals despite my disability,

  1. To inspire others to reach higher, and
  2. To ignite trust. I am man of strong Faith, and this is the strength that makes me believe in myself and build others’ up so they can rise and overcome their obstacles.

Thus, my purpose can be summarised in three points: CHALLENGE, INSPIRE, and TRUST.

  1. Challenge

In this point, I have two goals:

Challenge all the people who discriminate against a person living with disability by saying “you cannot do it, just stay home”. This statement makes me more determined to achieve my goals and prove them wrong.

I get a bus from my home in Smithfield to Fairfield (about 25 minutes) and then a train from Fairfield to central train station (one hour) and walk from the Central train station to the UTS UNI (twenty-five minutes). Is this not a challenge?

I am totally blind and sixty-four years old. I sit in class with a young student, and they have sight and fresh information because they are a new graduate. Some of them they speak English better than me. Is this not a challenge?

My knowledge in mathematics was limited, as my last class was in 1999 and in the Arabic language. My knowledge in computers was little to nothing. I learned how to use a computer when I arrived in Australia in 2006. I have responsibilities. I am caring for my parents and two sisters since traveling from Iraq to Australia.

I finished the first Master of Science (Mathematical and Statistical Modelling) at University of Technology Sydney during four semesters, and I finished the second Master of Science (Master of Philosophy in Science). And I hope I will continue to achieve my goal to complete my PhD in mathematics. Is this not a challenge?

And the second goal is to show to students and all the people around me what the meaning of challenge is, and what a challenge should be. This was my way of teaching mathematics in the past and my philosophy now. This was my way with all the students in my life in Iraq and Australia.

  1. Inspire others to reach higher.

If I am doing this all of this, then this gives me the motivation and the ability to continue to study my Master and PhD. My hope is that this will inspire lecturers, students and Australians in every walk of life to try harder and do better.

I want to inspire the lecturers and students while I am at university or in a lecture or tutoring class. Inspire them to do better than me and to tell them that a person who is blind is just as human as themselves and that I can do anything as well the students around me.

I have the confidence and the ability to work in my community as I love this country of opportunity.

  1. To ignite trust. This is an important point.

I am a man of strong faith, and this is the strength that makes me believe in myself and build others up so they can rise and overcome their obstacles. I believe that if you are not confident in yourself, you will struggle to achieve anything. While teaching mathematics in Iraq, I built trust with students and showed them how to face life’s challenges, and to not be afraid and not fear any obstacles they may encounter.

This is my method with all students in my life in Iraq and Australia, and always I tell them you are bigger than everything. If I let the students love the subject and the school, they will do the perfect job.

Never give up. Believe in yourself. Be passionate. Work hard. Know it’s never too late.

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