If you’ve visited Rivera Library in the past three years, you’ve likely seen Mohamed Jawara’s smiling face behind the front desk.
What you might never have guessed is that Jawara took the job at the Circulation / Reserves Desk to help him conquer shyness and to improve his communication and interpersonal skills.
“I saw how the staff at the front desk would help patrons, and I thought it would be a great way for me to get out of my comfort zone,” Jawara explained. “Working at the library, it’s a really positive environment. Everyone is very caring and supportive and they’ve played a great role in me improving myself and becoming a better person. We treat each other as a family.”
“Mohamed is a true servant leader at heart,” said Leslie Settle, Rivera Library's Access Services desk coordinator. “As a student supervisor, he sets the tone for the front desk and is an exemplary example of phenomenal customer service. When I think of training others in leadership and customer service, the things I have seen Mohamed do come to mind -- from how to greet patrons to making everyone feel like they belong.”
Born in the Republic of Sierra Leone in West Africa, Jawara immigrated to the United States in 2008 with his mother, a certified nurse assistant. At first, they stayed with his uncle’s family in Torrance, CA, but eventually settled in Loma Linda.
In 2016, Jawara’s younger brother and two sisters arrived from Sierra Leone. His father, formerly an accountant for the Sierra Leone Ministry of Defense, finally joined his family in May 2018, more than a decade after his wife and eldest son first came to the U.S.
“I felt like my mother did a great job trying to substitute whatever support my father would have given me, had he been here,” he said. “Even though it was difficult, she made the process a bit easier.”
He chose to attend UC Riverside because of its proximity to home. “It’s easy to commute here, and it would have been very expensive to live in the dorms,” he said.
Once he arrived, he was pleased to discover that UCR lived up to its reputation as a diverse campus. “It’s been great to meet people with different backgrounds of different races and develop friendships with them. That has enhanced my education here at UCR.”
Jawara graduated with the Class of 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus on law and society. He hopes to pursue graduate study and work in the field of public health, an interest that stemmed from tragedies he witnessed in his homeland.
Before Jawara came to California at age 12, he saw many horrors in the midst of Sierra Leone’s civil war, which only compounded challenges the country already had with meeting basic healthcare needs.
“I was born in the middle of that upheaval,” he said. “Growing up, I got to see those casualties of war, people who had limbs amputated. It was common to see close friends that I grew up with dying from malaria. I also had an uncle who suffered from a liver condition. The right professionals weren’t even available, so he relied heavily on native healing. Unfortunately, it just got worse and he ended up passing away.”
His father and siblings were still in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis of 2014. “It was really excruciating to hear their calls and how frightened they were,” he said. As a result of these experiences, Jawara has devoted his studies to learning how to improve healthcare so that he can someday make a difference in Sierra Leone by building more hospitals staffed with trained medical professionals.
Settle commented, “Mohamed was born to understand and love all people in sincerity without judgment. Not only is he talented, but he has a purity about him that is unexplainable.”
How can someone who has seen firsthand so many gruesome tragedies still have such optimism? In a word: travel. “It plays a big role in me having a more positive outlook on life because I’ve had the opportunity to see the difference between having to struggle for basic things,” Jawara said.
“See how the rest of the world lives. By traveling, you get to compare and contrast and have a much deeper appreciation for what you have, no matter how little,” he added. “For you, it might seem like it’s nothing, but to someone else out there, it’s the whole world.”
In June 2018, Jawara was hired as a Research Assistant at UC Riverside's School of Medicine's Center for Healthy Communities. Additionally, he continued at an internship with the Riverside County Department of Public Health.
While interning and working, Jawara will begin applying for a variety of graduate programs in social science and healthcare.