James Thuch Madhier, 28, Toronto
World University Service of Canada
Born in South Sudan, James Thuch Madhier has been making positive change happen for himself and his family since he was less than 10 years old. After deciding he wanted to learn, despite the potential risks of military conscription from Sudanese schools, James began his own trading business to pay for his uniform and supplies. Travelling by bicycle to villages that had been cut off by bombed out roadways, he would bring sugar or salt he had purchased, and barter for corn or maize grown by the locals. He would then sell the grain to members of his own community. He was able to attend school and provide food for his family, but there was only so far he could progress.
“After grade five, my mind was open enough to understand I didn't have any future if I remained in South Sudan,” James says. “School was often interrupted by conflict and bombings... I thought if I left the country I would have an opportunity to continue uninterrupted.”
At about age 15 he travelled on his own to Kenya, where he lived in Kakuma Refugee Camp until 2013, completing his high school education and going on to teach in a program for young girls, while living on a food ration that only lasted if stretched to just one meal per day. In 2013 James was selected by the World University Service of Canada's Student Refugee Program to attend the University of Toronto's Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies program.
Since his arrival in Canada, James has been doing incredible work to help improve conditions on his native continent.Elected as a 2015 Future Leader by the European Commission, James travelled to Brussels and met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as participating on a panel discussing the future of trade between Africa and the EU. In November 2015, he won the Nudge Global Leadership Challenge, which allowed him to spend the summer of 2016 conducting research into poverty and cocoa farming in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. In October 2016 James participated in the One Young World summit in Ottawa, where he met with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to discuss the refugee crisis in Kenya.
“[The] Syrian refugees brought to Canada don't represent even a fraction of the refugees in Kenya, and the societies they fled from are not getting peaceful anytime soon,” says James. “If someone is born in the refugee camp, and they're now 24 years old, that's not a temporary situation anymore.”
At the One Young World summit, James received a fellowship from The Resolution Project for his current venture: a solar-powered irrigation system that could be used to double the length of the cultivation seasons in South Sudan. “In African context, most conflicts are usually based on limited resources and lack of empowerment. In South Sudan a lot of communities are used as scapegoats for the conflict that is happening. Ethnic groups can get along as long as they are well educated, and they have food on their tables.” James believes food security is a major part of solving the conflicts in his home country.
Graduating next year, and planning to head to Africa soon to source materials for his project, you might expect James to be in a constant rush, but he still hasn't quite adjusted to that aspect of life in Canada. “[Canadians are] always running on the street with a cup of coffee in their hand... I don't think there would be anything in Kenya that would make me run from street to street with a cup of tea in my hands,” he laughs. “Take your time, you know, this world is not going anywhere!”
World University Service of Canada is a non-profit organization which offers sponsorships for refugee students from Kenya, Malawi, and Jordan, who have performed well in their final year of high school.