South Sudan: "I have always wanted to do something great in my community"

19 Dec 19

Samuel Abuvu Paul, 24, has worked as a watchman – or guard – with MSF in Mundri, South Sudan since May 2017. Like many of the places MSF works in South Sudan, young, bright, dedicated students in Mundri have had to flee armed-conflict to save their lives, thereby losing opportunities to continue their schooling. To address such issues and increase the capacity of our South Sudanese colleagues, MSF started the STONE and Study grants. These grants are funded by former international MSF staff to support the professional development of national staff in South Sudan, and around the globe.

Samuel is one of eight South Sudanese recipients of the grant this year. The scholarship will allow him to study engineering at the International University of East Africa, in Uganda.

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Growing up, Samuel Abuvu Paul loved his brother’s bicycle. He’d weave between shelters in the internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camp outside of Mundri until inevitably, the gears would freeze up, or something else on the bike would break.

“If I’d tell my brother he would beat me up,” Samuel confessed, “So I stayed very, very quiet,” he said, laughing.

Samuel asked his father: “When something breaks, and you want to repair it, which one do you study?” His father responded, “That one is engineering.” Thanks to Samuel’s clever repair-work, his brother would return from school each day to find his bicycle just as he’d left it, and so began Paul’s quest to become an engineer.

But pursuing this dream was no simple task. Due to the conflict, Samuel had to flee his home multiple times, moving from IDP camps to town, and hiding in the bush when the fighting drew near. Whenever he was able to attend school, however, he stayed at the top of his class.  “I have always wanted to do something great in my community,” says Samuel.

Samuel joined Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) as a watch guard in 2017, but his dream to study never faltered. Samuel soon inquired about the possibility of scholarship opportunities with MSF.  

“When you speak to Samuel you clearly see his passion for learning,” Says MSF Mundri project coordinator, Jacob Kuehn

Last year, Samuel applied for the Support to Training Of National Expertise (STONE) fund grant, and in August, he became one of a handful of STONE fund grantees across South Sudan. The STONE fund will cover 90% of Samuel’s tuition for an engineering degree in neighbouring Uganda. The fund seeks out grantees, like Samuel, whose intellectual passions may not fit squarely within MSF operations, yet are committed to bettering their individual capacity, which will in turn improve their communities.

“The scholarship is mutually beneficial,” said STONE fund founder and supporter Albertien van der Veen.

Van der Veen and Riejkje Elema started the scholarship because they saw a gap in educational opportunities for non-medical staff. Both have spent many years in the ranks of MSF, and they believe that a focus on capacity development of employees on the ground is crucial to operations, complementary to MSF’s work.

“Everybody at MSF knows we are nowhere without the national staff,” Albertien asserted, noting that the STONE fund is financially supported by current and former MSF staff.

In reflecting on how the STONE fund fits within the wider MSF learning and development opportunities, Vineetha Bambasala, who is the Learning and Development manager of MSF South Sudan, highlighted the freedom of choice among staff of what they will study as being a particular benefit to this program.

“This opportunity helps in bringing about a sense of agency among staff working in MSF countries to realise their dreams, and expand the vision of where they see themselves in future.”

What’s more, the STONE grant is unique among MSF scholarships in that the grant comes without any obligation to continue working with MSF in the future. Currently running in 76 countries across the world, the STONE grant allows for more holistic individual and community development in a range of resource-strapped communities where MSF works.

Whether or not Samuel returns to MSF after his studies, one thing is clear: Samuel, like MSF, is dedicated to contributing to the health needs of people in South Sudan.

What is most striking about Samuel’s focus, is the fact that he wishes to pursue engineering not for the money or the prestige that could come from a career in that field, but rather for the skill that will enable him to give back to his community,” reflected Kuehn. “His long-term goal is to start his own business in South Sudan and provide jobs so that families can have a decent, healthy standard of living – truly the type of altruism that is aligned with MSF’s core values.”

In particular, Samuel is dedicated to helping orphans who lost their family during the decades of conflict. Samuel’s own father lost his parents to war, and struggled to support his seven children.

Samuel’s father’s advice to always study hard despite not having the money to send him to university has not been in vain.

“MSF is proud to count Samuel among the MSF family, and is honoured to have the opportunity to support his continuing studies.”

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