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Never take things for granted

Since civil war broke out in December 2013, South Sudan descended into a state of emergency. The war was brutal, there was conflict everywhere, a deadly crisis reigned and ethnic cleansing was the order of the day until the war ended. Innocent civilians, many of whom were women and children, paid the highest price. South Sudan’s civil war resumed in 2016 with serious abuses against civilians by both government forces and opposition fighters despite a peace agreement signed in August 2015

The war was terrible but out of the ashes has emerged a strong Unisan. His name is Richard Ruati and he lives in Juba, South Sudan. He went through major difficulties during his studies. Often he struggled to get his prescribed books due to the non-existent postal services so the books would be flown from South Africa to Dubai and then South Sudan at a very high cost. He would then have to beg NGOs to help him use their internet so he can complete his assignments. The task of handing in assignments on time was even more onerous as Sudan has poor postal infrastructure. He wrote his examinations in Uganda because in his war torn country there were no examination venues.

His support structure

Richard had a good support system in his lecturers from the Department of Communication Science at Unisa, and many in the department helped him navigate through his studies. One such lecturer was Dr Christo Cilliers who had met Richard in 2008 at a media training session. Richard then enrolled to study at Unisa in 2012. Dr Cilliers became the go-to person for Richard when he had issues, “I followed issues up on his behalf, and helped him to get feedback or speed up the process if there was a delay or if he had a problem in receiving material, or getting assignments on time,” said Dr Cilliers.

Richard pursued his studies no matter the cost, as he wanted to be part of the change in his country. His examination scripts would get lost numerous times but he was given many opportunities by his department. Despite much fear and trembling, Richard never gave up even though things looked dark and bleak. He finally completed his BA in Communication Science after four years and graduated on 8 March 2018.

“I believe that we meet people for a reason.  Richard was put on my road, and I was put on his road.  I avoid sending students from point A to point B, and always try to help. I have a passion for helping others and I would like to believe that I played a small part in helping Richard to get his degree.  Also, Richard only came this far because he never gave up – he persevered,” said Dr Cilliers.

There were many other staff who went the extra mile to help Richard, like undergraduate course coordinator, Ms Annelize Vermeulen who had to help to “pull strings”, and  Professor Elize Terblanche, also a module coordinator for Communication Research, who wrote to the dean to accommodate Richard.

Wise words to Unisans

What kept Richard going was the inspiration of the Unisa alumnus Nelson Mandela and the former president of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide who studied during difficult times and still completed their degrees. “I want to be part and parcel of the leaders who will influence the communication sector. Education is important, you’ll be able to mentor others and spear head communication and the information drive of any country.” 

His encouraging words to current and prospective students is that the sky is the limit. “Those who have not joined Unisa, it is time for them to join. As young people it’s our time to shine. You don’t have an excuse to make it in life.”

Having spent a few minutes with this young man, I was truly convinced that if people put their minds and hearts into something, they will succeed.

* Article by Kgaugelo Pule

Publish date: 2018/03/16