OVERLAND PARK — Hamza Saleh Raheel was born and raised in a small town called Ajdabiya, Libya. Ajdabiya sits at the crossroad of two important routes — the coastal route from Tunisia to Egypt and the desert caravan route from the oases of Al Kofra and Jalu, home to more than 85 percent of the Libyan oil reserves.
From an early age, these oil reserves had a direct impact on Hamza’s life and influenced his fascination with the subject of chemistry, leading him to graduate with a master’s degree in engineering management at KU’s Edwards Campus this month.
"I remember helping my chemistry teacher prepare chlorine solution bottles — bleach — to fight an outbreak of cholera in my hometown when I was just 12 years old," he said.
Through this task, Hamza discovered his profound interest to solve questions that requested the knowledge of chemistry on a larger scale.
"I found myself contemplating the possibility of converting polluted ground water into safe drinking water," he said. "I wanted to learn how to produce essential products for everyday life in a safe, efficient and environmentally sound manner."
As soon as Hamza graduated high school, he moved to Tripoli, Libya, to begin his dream of studying chemical engineering at an oil institute. It was there he was offered his first job, where he worked for two years while finishing his degree.
Hamza later accepted a job at an oil company that provided him with an opportunity of a lifetime: a year’s scholarship to come to the United States, learn English and take additional courses related to chemical engineering.
KU’s engineering management program allowed Hamza the opportunity to enhance his understanding of the implications and best practices in industrial management.
"After my scholarship period was over, I knew I wanted to come back to the U.S. on my own and finish the program," he said. "Before I left, I made sure to apply to the School of Engineering to become a degree-seeking student."
Before he knew it, Hamza was back in the United States finishing his degree.
When it came down to finalizing a subject for his thesis, Hamza focused on a subject that was near and dear to his heart since childhood: the environmental impacts of oil production in Libya.
"My family owns a lot of land, and oil companies are discharging polluted water into oil pits which has damaged our environment," he said. "This has caused respiratory disease and cancer rates to rise and has forced many people to leave their homes."
Not only is Libya’s environment in a battle against pollution, its people are in a battle of their own.
In February, during Hamza’s last semester of study, his hometown of Ajdabiya declared itself as a free city. Soon after, he learned grave news that Ajdabiya was under attack against the Libyan government. Today, Hamza’s hometown is considered to be at the front line of the Libyan war.
"I planned to go back home after graduation to help my company develop and implement a new standard of health and environmental safety. But given the circumstances, project stakeholders think this issue is the least of their priorities," he said.
Hamza is now planning to continue his education and earn his doctorate. His desire for continued education is motivated by his passion for helping the people and environment in Libya, but also by his strong desire to leave a mark on the world.
"As the saying goes, ‘Goals are dreams with a deadline.’ Everything I want in life can be achieved more quickly with a goal in mind," he said.
Hamza’s passion and need for achievement are working for him, to say the least. He’s received many honors and maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout his education.