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UWC Refugee Initiative – scholarship gives South Sudanese refugee fresh chance

The UWC Refugee Initiative aims to support at least 100 students, per year, of refugee or stateless status to attend a UWC around the world. UWCSEA is a proud supporter of this vital initiative and through the support of the College community, is currently supporting two scholars to attend UWC Dilijan and UWC Mostar.

They are two of many refugee scholars currently living and learning the UWC values, below is the story of Emmanuel, from South Sudan who is studying at Adriatic College in Italy. His scholarship was created by Anna Illy, of the famous Italian coffee roasting company Illy.

DUINO, Italy – On a cliff top overlooking the Adriatic Sea, 18-year-old Emmanuel sits on a rock, doing his economics homework in the late afternoon sun. War overshadowed his childhood and educational opportunities in South Sudan, but now he is catching up academically and making the most of a scholarship to UWC College in Duino, near Trieste.

“There is a feeling of freedom up here,” he says, spreading out his arms. “A human being is like a tree. When you are in a bad environment, you narrow yourself and your thoughts but in a good place, you expand.”

  • Emmanuel is making the most of a scholarship to UWC (United World College) Adriatic College in Duino, near Trieste.
    Emmanuel is making the most of a scholarship to UWC (United World College) Adriatic College in Duino, near Trieste. © UNHCR/Fabio Bucciarelli

Emmanuel is in the first semester of his first year at UWC Adriatic. His scholarship is courtesy of Anna Illy, of the famous Italian coffee roasting company Illy, and she has come to the college to meet Emmanuel for the first time. They sit in a café, sipping from small cups, before it is time for him to go to his English class.

Emmanuel’s English is fluent, and he also speaks Arabic and his native Moru tongue. He grew up in Yambio in South Sudan. While still in primary school, he fled conflict and became an internally displaced person in his own country, like millions of others. He later became an orphan, although he does not want to talk about his childhood. The memories are too painful.

“A person can lose hope but you have to believe in what you do.”

After attending secondary school in Bahr Naam, Maridi County, Emmanuel moved to the capital of Juba but ran into fierce battles between government and rebel forces. He fled to Uganda, becoming one of over a million refugees from South Sudan at present being hosted in the neighbouring country. His older sister Raile also fled separately to Uganda. Miraculously, they met up again in Bweyale refugee camp.

A friend from South Sudan called Peter told Emmanuel about the UWC scholarship. Peter himself was too old to apply but encouraged his younger friend. “Peter has a caring heart,” says Emmanuel. “We had a closeness and when I faced challenges, he was like a brother to me.”

But Emmanuel had to take a big risk, giving up the protection he had been given in Uganda in order to return to his home country and to take part in the UWC scholarship interviews in Juba. “I spend most of my time praying,” he says. “A person can lose hope but you have to believe in what you do.”

He was selected by the UWC South Sudan National Committee from 19 candidates. Perhaps his 400-word essay on the war was the decisive factor, or perhaps it was his record of service as a Pathfinder (equivalent to a Boy Scout) in the Adventist church.

Emmanuel has settled in well at UWC Adriatic. He shares a room with a Ukrainian student, while his best friend is a boy from Japan.

“Everything was new,” Emmanuel says. “The weather, the landscape, the people around, so nice and welcoming. I am seeing things differently here.”

Emmanuel is studying economics, philosophy and biology, with mathematics, Italian and English as secondary subjects. After his morning lectures and a quick lunch in the canteen, the cliff top is a peaceful spot in the open air to do his homework.

The trees here remind him of his old school in South Sudan. He admits he is homesick. “I come up here to refresh my mind, to listen to songs on my phone and sing along with them. I miss home. I have lost old friends. But life is not a choice. It’s all about where you find yourself.”

Economics is the subject he hopes will take him to university after he completes the IB, possibly in Europe, and back home again to South Sudan. He is determined to return and make a difference for his own people.

Please consider supporting the UWC Refugee Initiative.  A gift of any amount can support scholars like Emmanuel to create a better future for themselves, and for their country. 

This story was written and produced for the UNHCR website and shared with UWCSEA. http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2017/11/59fc4c864/italy-scholarship-gives-south-sudanese-refugee-fresh-chance.html