‘Lost Boy’ finds his way at SFU
The journey across Simon Fraser University’s convocation stage lasts only a few seconds, but those few steps are an inconceivable world away from Panther Kuol’s childhood trek through Sudan with 26,000 other Lost Boys.
When he was six, soldiers destroyed his southern Sudanese village in the brutal civil conflict between the Muslim North and the non-Muslim south.
He and several unaccompanied youth fled on foot to Ethiopia, only returning to a Sudanese camp for the internally displaced after Ethiopia’s government was overthrown three years later, in 1991.
A year later, the soldiers attacked the displaced camp when Kuol, age 10, was home alone. He fled into the desert, eventually joining other orphans, some as young as five, known as southern Sudan’s Lost Boys.
They trekked 1,300 km across sub-Saharan Africa, encountering wild animals and hostile communities, and enduring starvation, disease, dehydration and exhaustion.
Only 10,000 survived the year-long journey to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where Kuol lived for 13 years.
He attended primary school with assistance from international aid groups, and then high school on a scholarship.
On the strength of his grades, he applied to the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) scholarship program.
SFU WUSC student volunteers selected him from amongst 12 other refugee applicants.
All SFU students fund the SFU WUSC program through a small levy ($2.50 or less) added to student fees each term. Since the program’s inception in 1982, SFU WUSC has sponsored 43 refugee students.
Kuol arrived at SFU in 2005, at age 23. This month, after nine years of part-time study and work, he will cross the stage to receive a bachelor’s degree.
“I owe this academic milestone and everything I hope to achieve in life to the WUSC program and the SFU students who gave me the opportunity to pursue a higher education,” says Kuol.
“I wholeheartedly thank the entire student body at SFU for financially supporting the student refugee program. The program has made a great impact in my life and it continues to provide a glimmer of hope for many disenfranchised refugees around the world.”
Kuol is currently working as a pension analyst in Toronto, a job he has held for the past three years while completing his undergraduate degree. He hopes to be admitted to law school.
But there’s more to this happy ending. Last year, Kuol discovered good news when he visited refugee camps in Kenya and Uganda: he found his parents and several siblings living in the camps.
Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.
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