Majeed Nashiru, or MJ as his friends call him, grew up scared of horses.
He never would have guessed growing up in Yiyziiri, a small community outside of Wa in northern Ghana, that he would be spending his days on horseback, in the snow, in Canada.
Nashiru arrived in Canada at the end of April this year, and has been attending the Applied Sustainable Ranching program at Thompson Rivers University since May of this year.
Since his start at the program, he’s worked at placements at Highlands Irrigation, the Zirnhelt Ranch, and at Indian Gardens Ranch in Savona.
The road to Canada for Nashiru has been a long one.
As a secondary school student, Nashiru earned an international scholarship to spend his final two years at West Sound Academy in Washington, where he graduated as valedictorian of his class.
From there, he returned to Ghana where he spent the next three years applying to post secondary institutions.
“I had a hard time getting into universities because my certificate was a foreign one,” he said.
In the meantime, Muriel Garland was just getting started on a campaign to bring Nashiru to TRU. She had first heard about Nashiru when his teacher appealed to Garland to help with fundraising to bring Nashiru to school in the United States. Her grandchildren graduated the same year as Nashiru.
Garland’s husband, Brian, suggested that if they were going to fundraise for Nashiru, they should invite him to live with them in Williams Lake and attend TRU.
“We did, and I got an email back so fast it wasn’t even funny,” laughs Garland.
Nashiru had originally hoped to study civil engineering in Ghana. His goal was to help provide safe drinking and waste water systems to his community. Water systems in Ghana are often unsafe, and in Nashiru’s community, his family members still walk hours to get to a safe water supply.
Agricultural enterprises often rely on rains, which in the northern region of Ghana are preceeded by a months-long dry season when crops get very little water at all.
Still, when Garland told Nashiru about the Applied Sustainable Ranching program, it appealed to him.
“It was alike a light came on. I just knew this is what I wanted to take,” he said.
“The knowledge that the sustainable program is all about is sustainability in agriculture, in ranching and in everything. That is what made me go yeah this is what I really need,” said Nashiru.
“People back home, the practices are not sustainable, they are not something that brings about profit or development or anything like that, but they don’t know the new ways to do things to make life better for them.”
The process to get a passport, and then a visa to come to Canada was long, said Nashiru.
Garland also needed to raise more than $16,000 to pay international tuition for Nashiru – she canvassed local service clubs, businesses and individuals.
To date, Nashiru has learned about everything from horsemanship and stockmanship techniques to how soil types can affect vegetation nutrition, to how to build an irrigation system on a ranch.
“Sometimes you feel what you are learning here, cannot really apply, but then most of the time, most of the things you learn you can find a way to apply it,” he said.
Students of the program spend part of their week in a classroom, and then part of their week in placements on a ranch applying what they’ve learned.
When he graduates, in June of 2019, Nashiru hopes to bring what he’s learned from the program back home, and establish a farm or a ranch in Ghana that he can use to demonstrate what he’s learned.
“I come from a country where if you tell people to do this they look at you and go ‘What? Are you crazy?’ If you do it and they see what you’ve done, and they see it working out for you, then they go ‘Okay, I will do what he is doing.”’
He aims to help the people of his community develop their agriculture.
While Nashiru misses food from home — “banku” a dish made from fermented maize being his favourite — he said his adjustment to Williams Lake has been pretty smooth.
“It’s a small, amazing town,” he said. “Everyone is just so nice and I am not used to that. When you meet people they are just nice, they want to know what is going on with you.”
Garland is now starting up her second fundraising campaign for Nashiru’s second year of school, for which she’ll need another $16,000 to $20,000. He’ll also be working 20 hours a week (what his visa allows) at Highlands Irrigation when irrigating season starts up again.
People from all over have donated to Nashiru’s education fund. While in Ghana he helped co-ordinate a donation of school supplies and toys from a 13-year-old in the States to the schools in his community. The 13-year-old’s mother donated several thousand dollars to Nashiru.
“That was a life changing thing for most kids in my village. You should see their faces when I presented them with gifts. It was magical.”
Nashiru will spend Christmas on the Zirnhelt ranch, and in the new year is looking forward to the business portion of the ranching program.
The Garlands are teaching Nashiru to drive and hope to visit Ghana one day in the future.
“They are amazing people. I really could not ask for anything more,” said Nashiru. “Sometimes I tell my mom about Muriel and she goes, ‘Oh she is stealing your heart from me,’ she knows how caring she is.”
In the meantime, he’s learned to face his fear and ride on horseback.
“Riding on a horse in the snow, that day was magical. The very first day we went out to bring the cows in, it was so so cold and just snowing everywhere,” he said. “I was experiencing two new things at the same time: snowing and then riding on horseback herding cows. It was just amazing,”
“I’m just the luckiest person on earth. Sometimes I just ask myself what I’ve really done or why I deserve this, but I never seem to get the answer to that,” he said. “I’m going to make sure this luck I am facing right now, people will also face it through me. That’s what I intend on doing.”