From Today Show:
It’s a long way from the soccer fields of Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp to the Ivy League — but Morris Kaunda Michael made the journey.
Last month, Michael, a 23-year-old Sudanese refugee, graduated from Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering with a B.S. in biomedical engineering. He hopes to continue his studies in medical school so he can use his education to help people still living in the severe poverty he left behind.
“I owe something to the world. As a refugee, you don’t have a lot of things of your own. Most things are gifts,” said Michael. “The best I can do is to give back to the community.”
Sitting on a bench in the middle of Columbia’s lush, manicured campus on a recent spring day, Michael explained his unlikely journey from southern Sudan to New York’s Upper West Side.
In 1988, Michael was born into the Didinga tribe, traditionally cattle herders and farmers, in southern Sudan near the borders of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. At the time, Sudan was divided by a bloody civil war that pitted government forces, mostly northern Arab Muslims, against the primarily Christian or Animist African southerners.
An estimated 2 million people died as a result of violence, famine and disease related to the conflict. In addition, another 4 million southern Sudanese were displaced and moved to refugee camps in bordering countries. Michael’s family was one of them. Michael says he was just about 6 years old when his mother moved his family to Kenya’s U.N.-sponsored Kakuma refugee camp to escape the violence, instability and lack of economic opportunity in Sudan.
He went to school in the camp, when it was actually operating, for about four hours a day and played a lot of soccer with his friends. But he described the atmosphere as very tough because everyone was there because they had fled repression and violence with essentially the clothes on their backs.
“There are a lot of people there who had lost basically everything, so there was a lot of hopelessness,” Michael said.
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