Dumped in the Sahara Desert by traffickers, Ousman Umar believed he was going to die like scores of other immigrants.
However, he survived against the odds and after a tortuous journey made it to Spain where he became a successful businessman with a masters degree from one of the world’s top business schools.
He could have been a poster boy for Africans who dream of coming to Europe but instead set up a charity to persuade them to make their lives in their own countries instead of following in his footsteps.
Now he has won a prestigious Princess of Girona award for social projects with innovative and tangible achievement.
The award was for setting up the charity NASCO Feeding Minds with his brother Banasco Seidu Nuhu which invests in educational projects in their country, Ghana.
“I still cannot believe I won this award. We are an NGO that is only funded by private donations and donations and functions thanks to our volunteers,” Mr Umar said.
“This recognition gives me the strength to keep working every day in this project and to continue helping with education and that no one should ever have to go through what I had to go through. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
The Foundation Princess of Girona valued the work of Umar in “building a transformative project which combines education, technology, and alliances and contributes solutions to the migration problem”.
In his book, published in Spain, called Journey to the Land of the Whites, Mr Umar relates the beatings and corruption he witnessed during his five year journey to reach Europe.
He says he wishes he had never made the journey and instead carved out a life in his native Ghana.
His remarkable story came after more than 23,000 migrants arrived in Spain’s Canary Islands since January last year, making it the latest focus of Europe’s migration crisis.
Mr Umar, who lives in Barcelona, set up Nasco Feeding Minds, to buy computers for schools in his native Ghana to give children a chance through education to choose their own future.
For a time he worked with Proactiva Open Arms, a rescue charity, but now believes saving migrants from flimsy boats in the sea is not the answer.
The son of a witch doctor from a remote village in Ghana, his mother died during childbirth, leading village elders to condemn him to death for being a ‘bad spirit’. Only the intervention of his father saved him.
Mr Umar left his country when he was 13, trekking through Niger to the border to Libya.
Traffickers left his party of about 40 migrants in the Sahara, where many died trying to cross the desert.
He survived by drinking his own urine and from meagre rations.
After about a month of trekking, his group reached villages in southern Libya and where he collapsed but was revived by locals. Later he found work as a welder but life in Libya was tough for a black man.
Determined to escape, he saved about $2,000 to travel through Algeria to Morocco and finally to Mauritania where he took a flimsy boat to the Canary Islands.
Eventually, he made it to Barcelona, arriving in the Catalan capital when he was 18 years old.
After two years living rough on the streets, Mr Umar was helped by a Spanish family who supported him through school.
He studied for an MBA in business administration at Esade, which has been ranked as one of the top business schools.
He later set up the charity with his brother and before the pandemic travelled frequently to Ghana to work with NASCO.
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