A young refugee’s journey in pursuit of academic dreams


Amule Nixon Raphael, 32, is a South Sudanese refugee in Ethiopia. He was born in a small town called Yei, in South Sudan in the Central Equatoria State. He fled his homeland at the age of three and he spent almost half of his age in exile as he stayed 17 years in Uganda and seven years in Ethiopia.

Following the Peace Agreement reached in 2005 that marked the end of the civil war in Sudan he and his family was very optimistic about the future and; in 2009 they decided to return to their home country after 17 years living in exile.

In about two years, South Sudan became an independent country which filled him and his parents with hope. Unfortunately, their hope could not last long as the country immersed in another civil war. So, he had no other option but to flee again in 2014.

In 1993 in Uganda, he and his siblings were to be enrolled in school, but they did not know which classes to put them in so they were asked to try stretching their arms over their heads and touching their ears, which was the requirement to enroll in grade one. The tryout was considered as a criterion to check if children are at their school starting age. Unfortunately, he and his sister’s fingers were too short to reach/touch their ears and they lost the chance of joining formal school that year.

Instead, they were put in a dusty, noisy and congested nursery room where they were all given packets and pamphlets full of black and white pictures donated by UNICEF. At the time, he was too small to color any pictures, sing or count the English alphabets but the cup of porridge in pre-school served as an incentive for him not to stay home.

In 1996, after his family was relocated to a new camp due to the proximity to the Sudan border, he was enrolled in a new school which was operated by the Office of the Prime Minister. “As there were no classrooms, we were taught in the shades of trees and sat on piles of pole that each of us had to secure to have comfort in class,” Amule said.

However, due to insecurity concern in the camp; and for rebel movement was getting in a rise in the area; leading life at the camp became unbearable. Thus, his family decided to move to Arua Town.

This created the chance to join the government operated Arua Public primary school. It was his first opportunity to learn and compete with his Ugandan peers for academic excellence. However, life in Arua Town was too challenging for his family and they could no longer sustain the family and continue to send him and his siblings to school. So, they had to move again to Imvepi Refugee camp, and once more, he joined the camp school.

Fortunately, his experience from Arua public school helped him to become one of the top five students in class and it has had a profound impact on his academic domains in the years to come. Following a competitive process, he was one of the few good students that were awarded a prestigious four year secondary school scholarship from Huge Pilkilington Charity Trust.

He was admitted to St. Joseph’s College Ombachi, one of the best secondary schools in the region. After the secondary school, with the sponsorship from Church of Uganda, he attended and graduated from a three year comprehensive nursing course at Kuluva School of Comprehensive Nursing.

And then, he and his family repatriated to Southern Sudan, where his search for academic excellence continued. The first taste of serving in the health sector gave him a motivation to aim higher-he was awarded a government scholarship in 2010 and joined the Upper Nile University to peruse a Bachelor Degree in Medicine.

Considering the high maternal and infant mortality rate in his country, he was motivated to do Residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology if he were to complete his six years in the medical school. But, the outbreak of conflict in December 2013 and the following atrocities shattered his dream of completing his studies and abort his strong determination and keenness to contribute his citizenship responsibility to the reconstruction of his young country.

Not only did the conflict squash his academic ambitions and disrupt the education which in his view is the elixir that waters the roots to economic growth and development; but also made him a refugee again. And in 2014, he arrived in Ethiopia after spending just about five years in his independent home country.

But he never gave up. So in Ethiopia, he took the university entrance exams and was admitted to Addis Ababa University. In 2020, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy, rekindling his dream to serve in the health sector. Despite the challenge of life as a refugee, he has worked tirelessly over the years to pursue his academic ambitions and get to where he is today.

“Education not only enriches a refugees’ insight or enables them to see every life’s situation in positive dimensions, but it also gives refugees tools, skills and knowledge to work and build a future.”

Unfortunately, he has seen and known many refugee youths who have walked their lives as they have not been able to overcome the everyday challenges and been motivated to create a positive change in their own lives. In 2017, he started voluntary summer program, where refugees in higher education shared their experiences with youth in the refugee camps and urban program to help motivate them. And, he is proud to say that this has led to many young refugees joining vocational training schools and even being admitted to higher institutions.

 Amule believes that his learning experience at the Public Primary school in Uganda is the most memorable of his young school days as it gave him the chance to learn side by side with local children. This was what laid a solid foundation for my education. And this highlights the importance of allowing refugees to go to the same school as their host communities, which is a key message of this year’s World Refugee Day.

“I would like to take this opportunity and extend my gratitude to the Ethiopian Government, the donor community and different refugee agencies that make access to quality education for refugees a reality. I call upon the donor community, development partners and various refugee agencies to continue supporting refugees’ access to quality education. This is the only sustainable way to attain world peace, as refugees will make the best world leaders and work for peace, when they are given the opportunity and the necessary tools.”

His graduation came right after Ethiopia enacted a progressive refugee policy which, among other things, grants refugees the right to work. “Now that I have the required qualifications, I am waiting optimistically that the Ethiopian authorities will issue me with work permit, so I can use my knowledge and skills to make a contribution to the communities that have generously hosted me and thousand other refugees.” He said in his word: “After losing everything, education is the only golden goblet that the enemy cannot take away from me.”

Ethiopia is currently hosting about 900,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Of which, 52 percent of them are in school age (3-17).

The Ethiopian Herald June 25/2021

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