A Non-Traditional Student’s Origins and Dream Fulfilled
The life of Arike Pundro, BA ’20 in International Studies, should allow a linear telling, but when he talks, the story is more timeless in nature. At 57 years of age, the non-traditional student from the Morobu County’s Kakwa tribe in Sudan dips in and out of that country’s violent civil wars. In and out of his eventual resettlement to the United States. In and out of the extraordinary welcome and education he has received from “his new family” at the University of St. Thomas.
Reluctant to be hindered by his heavy accent, Pundro earnestly wants people to understand so much about his origins and his educational journey.
Displaced from Birth
He was born into a bloody civil war that lasted for decades and cost the lives of two million people. Along with millions of other refugees, he grew up in camps in various surrounding countries. During those hard years, Pundro remembers the abject hunger — eating boiled corn mixed with beans (Belia) and wild leaves when they could be found. He has memories of people hiding for their lives within the foliage along the banks of the Nile River.
Inspired by a Catholic Education
Pundro also thinks back to his education, which was secured during a several-years pause in the fighting. “The Catholic Church has developed a wonderful education system in Africa, and I’m very proud to have received my high school diploma from a Catholic high school in Uganda,” he said. “I saw that Catholics were everywhere helping people.”
A Natural Urge to be of Service
But war erupted again. By this time, Pundro was a young adult with a steady, compassionate character. During this era of intense crisis, he chose to be of volunteer service through the United Nations, counseling victims of the tragedy.
In 1994, still a young man, he was resettled from Africa to Houston, Texas.
Pundro said, “I found as many jobs as I could and particularly enjoyed working as a lab tech at St. Luke’s Hospital and with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.”
He also continued to volunteer and help wherever he was needed in the community.
Among his dreams was to get a college degree from a Catholic university. That quest led him to UST and the door of Dr. Hans Stockton, director of the Center for International Studies (CIS) and MPPA Program.
Becoming Part of the CIS Family
Stockton said, “Arike’s drive to get his degree was incredible. He worked at night and came to school during the day. Just like the rest of my students, he became family.”
Together with Leida Trad in the business office, the entire CIS faculty made sure that Arike had the support he needed to achieve his education goals.
In fact, his academic family was by Pundro’s side at the hospital during the months he spent recovering from a heart attack he experienced on his beloved campus.
With a kind smile, Pundro reflected, “No human being can manipulate or challenge God’s schedule.”
Now, strong and healthy and equipped with his BA, Pundro would like to reconnect with the UN, other international governmental organizations or Catholic Relief Services to help serve communities in crisis.
A Blessing Anywhere
Stockton said Pundro would be a blessing anywhere.
“Arike sees only God’s love and man’s humanity,” Stockton said. “His powerful drive to serve is remarkable, and it’s humbling to learn from and about Arike.”
To learn about UST’s International Studies Program, click here.
At his graduation ceremony on December 13 at Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land, Pundro will be among 398 undergraduates and 436 graduates from the classes of Winter 2019, May 2020, Summer 2020 and Winter 2020.