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An international humanitarian and dedicated advocate for refugees says it is a “dream come true” to graduate with an honours degree from South East Technological University (SETU), in his adopted hometown of Waterford.

Homayoon Shirzad, who has over 19 years working with international organisations in Ireland and abroad, proudly received his honours degree in Community Education and Development today from SETU. Homayoon is one of over 2,200 SETU students graduating at conferring ceremonies taking place this week.   

Despite his good intentions, life hasn’t followed the path of least resistance. After making the difficult decision to leave his home in Afghanistan, Homayoon arrived in Ireland in 2016 without his family and applied for asylum. He was moved to a direct provision centre in Waterford and a year later in 2017, he was granted refugee status.  

After spending another agonising year without his family, Homayoon’s wife and children were eventually able to join him in 2018. “It was a relief to finally be reunited with my family. My brother and his family came here in 2021 after the fall of Kabul. We both work for Concern Worldwide and it’s how we ended up here. My sister and her children are still in Afghanistan. I tried to bring them but couldn’t,” he said. 

Giving back to society 

Since arriving in Ireland, Homayoon committed himself to helping everyone in society, and positively advocated for refugee issues to the Dáil on numerous occasions. 

Currently, he is the School of Sanctuary Coordinator for Places of Sanctuary Ireland, an initiative to make Irish schools a place of welcome, safety and inclusion for all, and especially for refugees. 

Speaking about his educational journey, Homayoon explained, “I completed secondary school, a teacher's training diploma, had online NGOs recognised master’s degree in Humanitarian Aid and International Cooperation, and also had many other certificates on various themes of community education and community works completed during my employment with Concern Worldwide when I was in Afghanistan and before becoming a refugee in Ireland.” 

A lifelong ambition 

His lifelong ambition has been to attain a degree in his field of expertise. The BA (Hons) in Community Education and Development, which aims to further develop students’ knowledge, skills and self-efficacy as reflective practitioners, fit the bill.  

“Despite receiving training in various facets of community work, including local-led planning, participatory techniques, and community mobilisation, I had yet to complete a campus degree. SETU provided the crucial opportunity to realise this aspiration,” Homayoon said. 

In 2021, Homayoon achieved a BA Ordinary Level 7 in Community Education and Development, before fulfilling his dreams with the completion of a BA Honors Level 8 in the same discipline at SETU. “This significant accomplishment has not only validated my expertise but has also reinforced my commitment to making a meaningful impact within communities,” Homayoon reflected. 

Furthermore, his studies were enriched by practical experience, dedicated guidance from lecturers, the head of the school, and a collaborative learning environment. 

“I have effectively applied these learnings in my work with Schools of Sanctuary Ireland and my other community engagements. 

Broadening perspectives

“These experiences not only broadened my perspective on community development, but also offered me a sense of pride for creating meaningful change.” 

During his time at SETU, Homayoon earned a deep understanding of community dynamics and learned about needs assessment techniques and principles of community education among other areas. 

“Additionally, my education equipped me with the skills to navigate complex social and cultural challenges, fostering a holistic approach to community development. These skills have been instrumental in my work with Schools of Sanctuary Ireland, enabling me to make a tangible and positive impact within the communities I serve,” said Homayoon. 

"I had yet to complete a campus degree. SETU provided the crucial opportunity to realise this aspiration." Homayoon Shirzad