If No One Speaks Of Remarkable People
By, Sergio Burns
If no one speaks of remarkable people, how will the world ever hear of them? The thought muscles its way into my mind as I walk across the spacious reception area of the University of the West of Scotland. I am meeting Olivia Khan, and a text from her informs me that she is wearing a bright orange top. She should not be difficult to find.
The SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) student arrives with a friendly smile, shakes my hand with a good, solid grip, that tells me she is genuine, and comes with a personality and warmth that would light up any room. I can see immediately she has steel in her gaze, and real ambition in her soul.
“I do, yes,” She says with enthusiasm when I ask if she has plans for the future. “A very exciting ambition and super scary. I started to think what I could do in the bigger scale of things. So, I looked at the United Nations for jobs and they have internships. They are unpaid and I would have to fund them. So, I thought, there is no way I can get that money together. How the heck am I going to do that? I mentioned it to Dawn Parker (Corporate Parenting Officer of South Ayrshire’s Champions Board)… and she said there are ways to get funding… keep telling people and ask for help. So I sent out an email to the council and Mark Baker (Service Lead – Corporate Planning and Improvement at South Ayrshire Council)has taken this up as a personal project and is working with me. He has been a wonderful help, and got me in touch with you in fact… through his contacts.”
Her face lights up like Blackpool illuminations when she talks about her ambitions. She pauses, draws breath and I can see her mind racing as she thinks.
“It is an internship at the United Nations,” She says of her ambition. “I would love to do economic policy or there is some humanitarian work, there is an internship called peacekeeping. That is so cool, what does that even mean? There are all these wonderful locations… Vienna, Switzerland and New York. I have spoken to a woman who works in the United Nations for refugee children… and she was telling me that the bureaucracy is hard and explained what my workload could be like. The internship is going to be what I make of it though, and if I make a name for myself and if I show I am willing to do the work… then there is scope out there for me to prove myself and prove my worth.”
She doesn’t miss a beat, her enthusiasm manifest in her wide eyes. Yet, it is light years from her difficult childhood.
“I was born in Glasgow…a Jehovah’s Witness,” she revealed “When I was about seven years old – my mum was usually depressed throughout my childhood – she took an absolute nosedive. Divorced my stepdad, stepdad took his kids and the whole family fell apart, we lost our house and for a period of three to four years it was just chaos.”
Somehow, during this period, the family stayed one step ahead of the Social Work department, often disappearing and moving from address to address.
“Then…my mum had another kid,” she said. “So having another little baby in the house was wonderful. I spent a lot of time bringing up my sister, but looking back it was not ideal for a ten year old. One day the midwife visited when I was alone with my new born sister and she was very concerned”
Inevitably, given the circumstances, Olivia and her sister were taken into care and placed with separate foster families in Glasgow.
“So I stayed there for a couple of months,”she told me. “Unfortunately I ran away with my mum…