Learning has always been a priority for Mary Nyaluak Lam, a 25-year-old South Sudanese.
She first moved to Kenya as a child, wanting to get an education but unable to attend school in her country due to the on-going violence.
Following the 2013 civil war, Mary and her family became refugees and their life in Nairobi got harder. “I remember not going to school for two semesters simply because of the lack of fees.”
Thanks to her strength and resilience, Mary graduated from high school but found few options available to her afterwards. As she admits: “after high school I was hopeless and considering marriage.”
To support students like Mary to build their future, JRS set up a new, innovative educational programme: Pathfinder. Responding to the need for employment, income generation, and satisfying career paths for young refugees, JRS Pathfinder links higher education opportunities and professional training with employment and business pathways.
Acknowledging the importance of, but going beyond, economic independence, JRS Pathfinder also helps refugees to achieve personal growth. Through mentorship, career guidance, and close liaison with the communities, Pathfinder graduates become agents of positive change and social cohesion.
Given Mary’s predisposition and interest in pursuing a college degree, she was enrolled as part of the first cohort of the Global Education Movement (GEM) programme from the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), offered in partnership with JRS Pathfinder in Nairobi, Kenya.
Mary was the first graduate of the programme, and defines the experience as “a life-changer.”
As part of the SNHU GEM class, she not only acquired university-level education but also took part in relevant workshops. “I am more competitive in the job market based on the skills that I acquired from the programme, which is a huge impact not only on me but onlo on the skillset that I bring to my workplace.” Mary discovered her strengths, such as interpersonal skills, and developed entrepreneurship skills, which she is now eager to teach others.
Having finished her studies, and thanks to a moment of relative peace in South Sudan, Mary went back to her hometown of Juba. “I haven’t been back home since the 2005 clashes, so visiting my parents and family was one of my key objectives to why I came back.”
Once reunited with her family, she began exploring employment opportunities. Because of her GEM experience, she was confident in her ability to land a job. “The degree programme has equipped me to be a good thinker and a type of individual that must see every aspect of life positively.”
For five months she interned with several organizations and then landed a promotion: “[I will be] a Material Manager in one of the leading oil and gas companies operating here in South Sudan, which is a huge task for a new graduate without years of experience in that field.”
Reflecting on her path, Mary has a message to share with the refugee communities worldwide: “keep encouraging girls to go to school because there are huge opportunities for all.”