SUNY Oswego international student from Namibia hopes to bring changes to campus
By Maria Pericozzi
Omar van Reenan was born in Walvis Bay, Namibia, located in southern Africa, and raised by his mother, grandmother and sister.
They are the strong, independent and empowered women in his life he looks up to.
In Namibia, his grandfather was the first to build a hotel during the apartheid for “colored people,” or what Americans called mixed race. Van Reenan said he is a model for social justice in his community.
“I’ve always looked up to him and his leadership capabilities,” van Reenan said. “I’ve looked up to the women I grew up around too, because they became strong, independent women because of my grandfather’s encouragement.”
Van Reenan said he has been learning to fill the shoes his grandfather left behind.
“My grandfather built an entire community and neighborhood in a time where the color of your skin held you back,” van Reenan said. “That’s how I became an active young person in my community.”
Van Reenan was elected as the junior mayor of Walvis Bay in 2014 to represent the youth and advocate for their issues and rights.
“We fought for breaking the stereotypes of the students to get tested for HIV and AIDS,” van Reenan said. “We started a national nutrition month campaign to bring awareness about accessibility to food and healthy food to those who can’t afford it, and many other projects.”
He has always believed that leaders need to interact, lead, connect, and serve the people around them.
“I’ve always grown up with the values of service before self,” van Reenan said. “I’ve always tried to encourage my friends and people around me that no matter the color of their skin, their gender, that they too have great things ahead of them.”
In 2015, van Reenan was sent to the United States to present research at the Genius Olympiad, which takes place on campus.
He was given the option to study at one of his dream universities in South Africa or come to America. He took a chance and applied only to SUNY Oswego, and was accepted.
Pursuing his destiny
“Ever since I came here, I have no regrets,” van Reenan said. “Everyone here has made me feel that I am welcome, and I belong, and I too can be given an equal opportunity to pursue my own destiny, just as my American peers.”
Van Reenan has not returned to Namibia since he came to America.
“I know there is so much I can do for my country, and I want to go back,” van Reenan said.
He wants to help females get access to menstrual products, help children get access to affordable and quality education, and help adults suffering from HIV and AIDS.
“I’ll get there, but right now there is so much to do that I need to help the campus with,” van Reenan said. “In the free world, in a developing country, there are issues that my country faces too.”
This year, van Reenan fought for women’s club sports to get equal funds. He is a senator and director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Student Association.
He is also a resident assistant, a Laker leader for orientation, and the University College representative at SUNY Student Assembly.
“I want to do the best I can to uplift my campus community,” van Reenan said. “I will take the skills I’ve learned here to push my country forward. In the end, you should never forget your roots.”