Values for life: James Achuli and his UWCD experience
  • Stories of Alumni

James Achuli (Uganda, UWCD'21), our alumnus, is currently a student at the University of British Columbia, Canada, double majoring in International Relations and Political Science. He is not only the first person to attend a university in his family, but also a soon-to-be-published author. 

Here is James's story:

"I was born in South Sudan in 2003 to the sound of bombs and airstrikes and grew up under the support of the UN World Food Program. This vital support, however, did not last long because of two deadly wars that would happen ten years later from my birth. As a result, I became an internally displaced person and a refugee during the 2013 and 2016 civil wars in South Sudan respectively. Forcibly displaced from the only home I knew, I joined a moving crowd and walked many months towards the South of the River Nile in Uganda. As a kid without anyone to look after me, I did not know where we were heading to, but I believed in what some people in the moving crowd told me. They said I would find food, safety and education in Uganda. Eventually, the Kiryandongo refugee settlement in Western Uganda became my new home.

My indefatigable hope and thirst for education in the refugee camp drove me to the United World College (UWC) website on Google in 2019. That’s where my life changed completely when UWC Dilijan awarded me with a full scholarship to study the IB programme. This opportunity opened a whole new world of possibilities anyone can think of. Today, I am a Bachelor of Arts student pursuing a double major in International RelationS and Political Science at the University of British Columbia in Canada. It feels unreal.

If anyone had told me ten years ago that I would be in one of the best universities in the world, I would have crawled on my knees laughing off and advised them not to be too ambitious. But this is what is happening today, and I am grateful to those who stepped forward to help push me where I am today. 

A lot had happened to me at a very young age and some of these experiences, especially during my life back in my home country. were brutal and inhumane. I was that lonely child who had to dodge bullets under a table while looking at dead bodies scattered everywhere in the same room. I was that kid who was forced to join the army and exposed to war zones before escaping to Uganda. Here in Canada, I wake up a grown man, but in my nightmares, I am still that skinny child who escaped from the hyenas and crocodiles while crossing rivers. In the nights still, I am that boy who had to eat mud, snails, and wild fruits to survive in the longest walk of my life to Uganda. It is hard to believe how powerful education can change people in such a short time.

I have been collecting my childhood memories since I left UWC Dilijan, and the good news is that I have written a book about my journey to safety and school. A few editors are helping me put the story together and will be out when it is published and ready. The book is called “The Boy Who Carried Books” and it gives a detailed account of everything from my birth to how I ended up in Canada. It is a book that will continue to remind us of the power of hope and the importance of school. Education has that power to change people’s lives, and nothing is more important if we combine that with a refugee or anyone who is willing to learn and grow"

In James's Own Words

How did UWC Dilijan help you achieve where you are today?
UWC Dilijan undoubtedly changed my entire life. That opportunity gave me hope, friends and a brighter future. I am the last born but the first person to attend university in the history of our family. This would not have been possible without the incredible support of UWC Dilijan and its supporters. I will forever thank the UWC Dilijan community and the kind couple who donated for my scholarship there.

Where would you like to be/what to do in five years?
I am hoping to finish my master’s degree in five years from now.

What do you miss about Dilijan?
I miss everything, the close community of supportive staff and students from around the world, the greenery and the piano room. I want to sit by the small river again eating dolma, lavash and shawarma with my friends in the summer while listening to the beautiful sound of birds and water flowing towards Dilijan city centre.

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