Anyone who earns a doctorate knows hardship. And then there is James Alic Garang PhD '14 (economics). The journey that led him to his doctoral degree began when he learned the alphabet by writing letters in the dirt in a refugee camp after he fled war-torn Sudan.
As a practical matter, Garang has been working on his UMass degree for seven years, during which time he conducted field work in Kenya and South Sudan. He also met and married his wife, Maria Ayak, 27, had three children, Alic Benjamin Jr., 6, Adhot, 2, and Adut, 1. After arduous effort, and several other moves, he brought them here from Nairobi, Kenya, Dec. 5, 2012.
That’s impressive, but the obstacles he surmounted before arriving on U.S. soil are harrowing. They include a 600-mile trek that took three months when he was around 10 (with no parents accompanying him) from his home in South Sudan to Ethiopia. There, he lived in a refugee camp where he feels lucky to have received an education. Classes were held outside, and later in grass-thatched, mud-wall classrooms. Initially lacking both textbooks and paper to write on, he learned the alphabet outlining letters using sticks in dirt.