From refugee to Masters Degree

September 23, 2013

Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Higgott with Mr Kachuol Piok.

When his learning journey began in a Ugandan refugee camp 13 years ago, Kachuol Piok could never have imagined he’d be graduating from Murdoch University with a Master of Development Studies.

“In 1991, I had to leave my village and my parents due to the civil war in Sudan. I started living as an Internal Displaced Person before being conscripted into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement as a child soldier,” Mr Piok said.

“I was given an AK47 and was deployed to defend the elderly, women and children behind the front lines, and did so for several years until my older brother made contact and sent my sister to find me. Because I was declared a child soldier, I was able to leave.”

Mr Piok travelled to Uganda on foot, a journey he said was very dangerous, having been stopped several times and searched for weapons – but eventually he arrived at the Adjumani refugee camp where he began his schooling.

He spent six years in the Ugandan camp, completing his primary education and most of his secondary education through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Upon finding out that there was no resettlement in Uganda at the time, he made the decision to go to Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya, where he spent four more years seeking resettlement in Australia.

Finally, 10 years after leaving the Sudan, he arrived in Perth. His sponsor helped him find a private rental property and he started basic computing classes at Edmund Rice and then Balga TAFE. From there, he enrolled in Murdoch University’s bridging program OnTrack.

“I passed OnTrack with flying colours and was accepted to study a Bachelor of Arts in Community Development in 2008. Upon graduating, I was awarded a Postgraduate Access and Equity Scholarship and did my Masters,” Mr Piok said.

“This degree means a lot to me, not just for its employment opportunities, but because it is a privilege to receive it after my long journey.  My relatives back home are very proud. There is a cultural belief that if you acquire something like this, it is a great achievement.”

Mr Piok’s Thesis is entitled ‘Becoming a refugee is not a choice’.

“No one wants to leave their country. It is where you grow up, where your friends and relatives are, and there is even the environment itself. As a refugee, you are entering the unknown – you’ve never been to that country – but when your life is in danger, you must leave,” he said.

Mr Piok is currently working for the Edmund Rice Centre Mirrabooka as the Settlement Grants Program Project Coordinator. and intends to return to Murdoch in the future to complete his PhD.

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