Article by Paul Stella & Jaedon Stephens | Photography by Eric Walther | Owl Staff

Running toward a greater life is a venture with no shortage of struggles, and sometimes the journey requires a traipse along the beaten path. Hassan Eissa, an engineering major at Harford Community College, embodies this in the most literal sense.

Eissa’s path has taken him thousands of miles from his home country of Chad. As a refugee, he’s no stranger to moving quickly from place to place. For Eissa, running is an escape from the outside world. Just as others have music or other hobbies, Eissa laces up his shoes and goes for a run.

It instills a sense of determination in him. This is the same drive he’s possessed since he left his home country years ago. Chad is a landlocked country in central Africa and is split between mostly desert and Sudanese-Savanna regions.

He left home without telling anyone in his family, loaded with aspirations of becoming a businessman. Though he was leaving his home, he was running towards a better life for himself and his family.

“Even before I started competing,
I always loved to run by myself;
it makes me feel good.”

Hassan Eissa

“I didn’t want to feed goats and sheep,” he says. “I wanted to educate myself and change my life.”

To fund his dream, Eissa found work transporting camels in and out the country of Libya. The journey would take him through the sub-Saharan desert for 16 days. The trek left him exhausted and hungry, but he managed to stay determined.

Eissa states, “You take one wrong turn and that’s your life.” This philosophy was born during his trek through the Ahaggar Mountains. Eissa risked it all for a better life while
climbing through the mountains. If he took a wrong turn, Eissa would have lost his way—and, most likely, his life.

After overcoming this difficult journey, Eissa made a life for himself in Libya. The camel business was going well and he had steady work.

This all changed when Libya went into an all-out civil war, also referred to as the Libyan Revolution. This altercation was between rebels and those citizens who were loyal to Muammar Qaddafi.

It was then that Eissa and his friend Bushara decided to try and get access to a refugee camp in Egypt. Bushara was opposed to the idea at first. Eissa told his friend, “Even if you don’t, I’m going to sign up, no matter how long it takes.” That was enough to convince Bushara.

They sent their applications in and hoped for the best. It wasn’t until a week had passed that they found out that they had both been accepted into the camp.

The duo ended up moving to Egypt and staying in the camp for about three years. Then, while he and Bushara were playing cards in the cafeteria one day, the next round of numbers was posted to the camp’s board.

If someone’s number was present, they were eligible to go to America. Eissa was thrilled to find that his number was posted. It was a new chapter in his life, one that would open up new possibilities.

Eissa was flown from Cairo to New York City. From New York, he was sent to Baltimore.

After spending his first eight months just getting accustomed to the culture of America, Eissa realized that in order to succeed, he needed to either work or go into higher education. So, he decided he would put everything he had into his school work.

In 2014, he left for Pennsylvania to enroll in the Keystone Job Corps Center, a two-year vocational school, to get his high school diploma.

Eissa graduated early in 2015, despite being projected to graduate in 2016, and had a dream to attend a four- year institution and graduate with an engineering degree. However, he was dissuaded by the cost and potential college debt.

As a first-generation immigrant, Eissa felt it would be prudent to get his foot in the door at a two-year college. So, while he was still in Pennsylvania, he looked into some two-year schools nearby. That was when he found HCC, which he heard was one of the greatest community colleges in Maryland.

Before he left Keystone in 2016, Eissa got good news from HCC. He was in for the fall semester.

When he got to Maryland in May, he stayed with a friend in Baltimore to wait out the summer. When August came, he moved to Harford County, and his new journey at HCC began.

Today, Eissa is a runner for the men’s cross-country team. He has received multiple conference honors, while also winning individual conference and regional championships; he has been the recipient of multiple Maryland JUCO Conference Student Athlete of the Month awards.

He sees running as something greater than just competition against his peers. It is a therapeutic experience for him. Eissa states, “Even before I started competing, I always loved to run by myself; it makes me feel good.”

When he was a young boy, Eissa chased birds with his dog. Running has always been second nature to him.

Eissa is also loved for his personality. Assistant Coach Sean Wright says, “He is one of the friendliest people you will meet. He was a positive example of the cross-country team both in the classroom and on the field.”

His ultimate goal is to receive his degree in engineering. He foresees that with this degree, he will one day return home and use his knowledge to better his country in many ways, starting with installing solar panels to bring free energy to his village and others. Eissa wants to bring greater technology to Chad and use it to improve the overall lifestyle of his home country.

Eissa’s eyes are set on bigger and better things for everyone. With this determination, sooner or later, he’ll be running back home.

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