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Former tube driver turned international charity founder honoured by UEL

Student volunteering abroad

UEL alumnus Firoz Patel receives an honorary doctorate in recognition of his achievements

A former London tube driver who enrolled at the University of East London (UEL) at the age of 34, secured a first-class degree and went on to found and lead an international child rights charity has received another award from UEL - an honorary Doctorate of Social Sciences.

Firoz Patel, the founder and CEO of Childreach International, received his latest honour at a UEL graduation ceremony held at London’s indigo at The O2.  

“I clearly remember my graduation ten years ago,” he told a packed auditorium of graduating students and their families.

“I was sitting where you now, with my wife and two daughters aged four and six, and today they’re here again. This time my daughters are 14 and 16 – how time flies. I’d like to say a special thank you to them.” 

Firoz, who gained a first in International Development and NGO Management at UEL, was praised as an outstanding example of humanitarian leadership in the field of child rights, especially education, and for his campaign tackling human trafficking.

Since it began, Childreach International has raised £18 million, helping more than one million children in Brazil, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Tanzania, Morocco and the UK.

“It’s an honour to accept this award, that you’ve deemed me worthy, and I’d like to accept this honour on behalf of all my staff in the UK and around the world,” said Firoz.

“They are talented and the true agents of change in hard-to-reach rural communities. This honour also belongs to them, too.” 

Firoz congratulated the students on their special day, telling them to be role models for their family and peers.

“Remember the sacrifices you and your family made to get your through university,” he said. “The late nights, deadlines, juggling jobs and family so you could attend lectures, and overcoming other barriers. 
“Reflect back on this time you’ve had at UEL, and take comfort and find strength to overcome whatever life throws your way.

“I was 34 years old and happily married with two daughters. Then, one morning, I thought, ‘there has to be a higher purpose to my life’.

“When I was younger I had many dreams. I saw myself as a serial entrepreneur, with what I thought was a brilliant idea, but without the funding and encouragement I needed. Instead, I had people who were negative and feared failure. They crushed my dreams. 

“Coming to UEL, I found encouragement to follow my dreams. It was UEL’s then vice-chancellor who gave me the initial funding and office space to start the charity, and lecturers who acted as trustees. I’d like to thank Dr Meera Tiwari especially for her years of support.  

“So, avoid negative people, and surround yourself with good people who will encourage you to follow your passions and dreams. 

“Believe in yourselves, be passionate, have faith, and even through failure you’ll learn to find success. Don’t allow anyone to deter you from unlocking your potential. Some of you will be really big, with great successes, but with that comes great responsibility. 

“Finally, all of you are tomorrow’s decision makers and leaders, with the power to change our world and a make a defence. Be a ripple in the waters of life. Well done, you deserve it.”