Long journey to Burnaby Mountain

December 01, 2005, vol. 34, no. 7
By Stuart Colcleugh



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Panther Kuol prefers not to dwell on his past.

And that's understandable, considering the almost inconceivable path he travelled before becoming an SFU undergraduate student this fall, sponsored by World University Service of Canada's (WUSC) student refugee program and SFU.

In 1992 when he was only 10, Kuol was forced to flee his village in war-torn southern Sudan and walk for months through more than 1,300 kilometres of African wilderness to sanctuary in northern Kenya. Thousands like him - the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan - died on similar journeys, either slaughtered by government troops, drowned, eaten by wild animals or as victims of disease, starvation, dehydration and exhaustion.

“I haven't seen or heard from my family since,” says Kuol, who spent the next 13 years in Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp. Thanks to various international aid groups he was able to complete elementary school there and high school at a Kenyan boarding school, returning to camp on holidays.

But after that he had nothing to look forward to. “There was no work in the camp, no future,” Kuol says. Then he learned about the WUSC student refugee program. Although the competition was fierce he was eventually accepted, receiving landed immigrant status and with it the right to apply for student loans and scholarships.

Since 1982, SFU's local student WUSC committee has sponsored 22 students like Kuol, initially through individual donations and, since 2001, through a student fee levy of 50 cents per fulltime student per semester.

The sponsorship - normally for one or two students annually - covers transportation to Canada, books and all living expenses for one year. The university pays for a year's tuition and campus residence expenses.

Kuol is currently studying science and hopes to become an actuary. He says he has been deeply moved by WUSC members and SFU international staff.

He has also made “many new friends” and has even reunited with some cousins now in Canada and old friends from the refugee camp.

“I am very thankful to be here,” he says, and is adjusting well. “I read a lot about Canada and Googled SFU and Vancouver before I came, so it wasn't a total culture shock.” Nevertheless, he chuckles, “it's starting to get cold, even with the sun shining. That is a new experience.

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