James Garang Aguer (Class of 2024, South Sudan) never knew his homeland. His family fled the armed conflict in South Sudan in the late 1990s before he was born and they settled in Kakuma, one of the world’s largest refugee camps in Kenya. Growing up in such a complex place, where good people abound, but food and access to fundamental rights such as health services and education are scarce, was a challenge for Garang. However, it was also an opportunity for him to learn how to adapt to challenging environments, even when that meant learning Swahili, French, or Spanish, or travelling to other countries and learning about different cultures.
Education was a goal Garang always had in mind. As a boy, he took lessons from teachers in small, overcrowded classrooms with more than 100 other children trying to pay attention. Thanks to financial support from an uncle, Garang was able to attend another school outside Kakuma to finish primary and secondary school. He later received a scholarship from the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program to be part of EARTH University’s Class of 2021-2024.
It has been a little over three years since Garang left Kenya to study in Costa Rica. Last year, he completed the International Internship, one of his third-year courses at EARTH. Garang worked in the research and development department of Lignetics Group, a company that uses wood waste as a raw material to create sustainable products such as wood pellets as an alternative for renewable heating, BBQ cooking, animal bedding, and cat litter.
Garang conducted experiments, did research on specific materials, and developed reports with project results as part of the Internship. He also studied the composition of wood used and exploring modifications that can be made to improve the products and their viability.
“The work I did is completely scientific. I had to work in the lab, take data, perform analysis, and interpret the information. The courses I have taken at EARTH’s Academic Program have given me the foundation to do what I do and feel competent,” says Garang.
One of the insights he gained during this experience is the idea of creating a product with raw materials that others consider waste. This is an idea he hopes to implement in his country.
“I think that thanks to the experiences I had, other doors and opportunities will open for me. I gained a lot of knowledge, and I am still learning how to network. The Internship is a unique experience for a person like me because it is difficult to get this kind of opportunity where I come from. Thanks to my studies with EARTH, I could do this,” Garang adds.
Garang has never seen South Sudan, but he still dreams of going back to the country he calls home, and of giving his family the possibility of a safe and prosperous return. He hopes to have the skills and resources to enable other families to return and improve the living conditions there.
His story is an inspiration for all of us!