Arguably, it’s not all that ground-breaking when universities think that their alumni are brilliant. What does stand out is when external organisations recognise it too, especially when the organisation in question is the British Council – the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and education opportunities.
Such is the case for Abdullah ‘Abs’ AlKhulifah (2009-2012, Business Management with Marketing). He is a finalist in the British Council’s Study UK Alumni Awards in the Social Impact category, for his contributions as a psychologist in Kuwait undertaking important work to raise awareness of mental health in the Gulf. The prestigious Alumni Awards recognise and celebrate international alumni of UK universities, who have distinguished themselves through exemplary leadership in their professional field.
Abdullah’s path to praiseworthy leadership hasn’t always been straightforward. Coming to Winchester 10 years ago, he studied Business Management and Marketing in order to gain the skills that would enable him to return to his native Kuwait to run his family business.
"My experience at Winchester was a truly positive, life-changing experience. Not only did I learn independence, but I have made friends that have stayed very dear to me to this day."
“The city is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever lived in, especially being surrounded by the positive energy and greenery that lavished my life there on a daily basis. The university campus has a homey feeling that has taken away a lot of the common stress that students have.”
However, upon returning to Kuwait and working in the bank he knew something wasn’t right – “I definitely realised this was not my place in society,” he commented. Experiencing depression, he took the decision to switch his career. “I have been one of the victims of Kuwaiti society that has been tied up to only follow certain career paths,” Abs reflects. “Because of the pressure that society offers, I am definitely not the only one with such mental health issues, so I didn’t just want to tackle my own depression, I also wanted to guide others into fighting their mental illnesses.”
In order to chart a new course, Abs returned to the country where he had previously had Higher Education success. “The UK has the class and history which is very welcoming for students; its openness and diversity is truly amazing,” he comments. This time, Abs headed to the University of Edinburgh to complete a British Psychological Society-accredited conversion Masters in Psychology of Mental Health.
Back in Kuwait, he is now a prominent psychologist working at the Fawzia Sultan Healthcare Network. He provides therapy for adults who need cognitive rehabilitation and general counselling, in addition to working with children and adolescents who are dealing with learning disabilities, Autism, OCD, ADHD, general anxiety and depression.
Alongside seeing clients, Abs is fighting the serious stigma of mental health in the Gulf.
Giving workshops and lectures at Kuwait University and the American University of Kuwait, as well as attending conferences and workshops, including presenting at the upcoming Middle East Psychological Association’s third annual conference on parenting in the Arab world, Abs is determined to “make connections that will benefit the mental health field of our beloved country”.
Always hungry to improve, Abs is currently halfway through a second Masters degree, this time in International Counselling from Lehigh University, USA which he is using to help him develop specific therapy styles that fit best for the Gulf countries. Further ideas for future evolutions of mental health support have come from volunteer work on the hot streets of Kuwait. Working with animal shelters rescuing dogs and cats, Abs is hatching plans for introducing animal-assisted therapy for mental health in Kuwait.
As if this wasn’t enough, Abs is also a co-founder of Word of Mouth Poetry, a creative hub for up-and-coming spoken word artists, designed to give an awareness to the hidden talents of Kuwait. “It’s a vessel for all native tongues to share ideas and thoughts and to showcase and spread their work,” Abs explains.
“My proud choice of studying and living in Winchester has played a major part in making me a finalist in the British Council's Study UK awards in the Social Impact Category, because the University has shaped up who I am today and for that I am very grateful” Abs recognises. Awarded at a ceremony in Kuwait City in March, the British Council Study UK Alumni Awards winners are those who are leaders in their fields who have used their experience of studying at a UK university to make a positive contribution to their communities, professions and countries. Naturally, Abs is already a winner in our eyes.
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