Hellen Atiol: MA in Development and Emergency Practice, 2013-14

Hellen's story

Hellen Atiol

It is a real privilege and pleasure to spend time with Hellen Atiol. As you chat with her you gradually discover that she comes from a complex background, but the challenges in her past serve as a drive for a better future. She lives today with great hope and is both natural and articulate as she talks about her current work in South Sudan and her hopes for the future of that young country.

Hellen and her family had to leave Sudan during the ongoing violence there, and were helped by a German nun in Kenya who gave them shelter, food and access to education. They were then sponsored by a church in Canada and spent some time there before Hellen returned to South Sudan in order to make a difference to her home.

Hellen helping to plant potatoes

Hellen helping to plant potatoes in a programme to improve subsistence farming methods in South Sudan…

She has been working with an organisation which has been involved in a number of projects to try and improve life in her local area. One initiative has been working with farmers to improve yields on their subsistence farms, in turn improving life for their whole family.

Hellen has also worked with local young people. Unemployment is a real issue and can lead to a lot of crime including cattle rustling. Sport and drama programmes have made a significant difference in terms of occupation, producing something worthwhile for local celebrations, and playing sport across a league with teams from different areas. The latter has also helped cross-regional relations, with one youngster describing how they now ‘interact as brothers’ with those for whom they had previously held suspicion. In an area immersed in violent history, it is a significant achievement and will make a wide-reaching difference well into the future. They have also been providing micro-finance and vocational training to help people get into work and business.

Hellen also raised the funds, along with family and friends, to purchase 35 new mattresses for her local, much deprived hospital, to replace the torn and soiled mattresses which were previously available to patients.

I am grateful every day. Ten years from now, if there is amazing progression in my local area, it is because I’ve been able to come here”Hellen Atiol, MA in Development and Emergency Practice

As she talks about what she hopes to do on her return to South Sudan after completing the DEP Masters you begin to get a taste of the ‘normalities’ of Hellen’s life, including whole villages set on fire by those who have power and hidden agendas. Building up the lives and hopes of local people is vital, and Hellen intends to generate development through projects to increase farming productivity beyond subsistence farming, so transforming local lives and economy. She hopes some of the income generated will also be used to further equip the hospital.

Hellen at Brookes

… and at Brookes as a Masters student having received a Brookes Alumni Fund scholarship.

In addition Hellen has great vision for the difference that can be made when women are given a chance to receive secondary education, and the impact they can have through what they achieve as a result. She plans to establish a foundation to provide girls from across South Sudan with the change to receive an education in neighbouring Uganda or Kenya, since education systems in the new country of South Sudan are only just getting off the ground.

One person with vision and drive can make a significant difference to a whole area, and Hellen is an example of such a person. Without funding from the Brookes Alumni Fund, alongside funds from another Trust, attending Brookes would not have been possible for her.

Hellen is quite clear that a great deal of what she hopes to achieve when she returns to South Sudan will be down to what she is learning here and the new knowledge and opportunities that are opening up to her as a result.