Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Panther Alier

South Sudan • Team Leader, Winrock International

MA-SID '09

The Impact of Heller Alumni around the World: South Sudan

No longer a "Lost Boy," Panther Alier, MA-SID '09, is making his mark in his newly-independent homeland.

Panther Alier is a "Lost Boy of Sudan." But this is no longer the most accurate way to describe him. Now a grown man in his 30s, he is making a new mark in his recently independent homeland of South Sudan as a positive force for change.

Alier is one of the thousands of orphaned and displaced children who fled the world's longest running civil war in the mid-1980s and trekked thousands of kilometers through Ethiopia to find refuge in Kenya before being resettled around the world. Like many "lost boys," Alier was a child out herding cattle when the northern army attacked his village. Even today, nearly 25 years later, he has recurring nightmares. With no food, no water and no shelter, he fled across the country in terror from the murderous army. The harrowing journey took him to Ethiopia for four years and then to Kenya for a 10-year stay in a bleak refugee camp.

Finally, he was among 3,800 young Sudanese admitted into the United States in 2001. Settling in Boston, Alier enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where he earned a degree in political science with a minor in international relations and economics, all while working full-time as a security guard at night. At the Heller School, he knew he would gain the tools he needed to advance his personal social mission -- to help the people of southern Sudan.

"I have always wanted to serve my people in any way I can," he says.

Today, Alier is leading a field office implementing a USAID-funded project called Building Responsibility for Delivery of Government Services (BRIDGE). The program aims to build the capacity of local government in Jonglei State to deliver much-needed essential services.

"The region was severely affected by a civil war that lasted for more than 20 years," Alier says. "Life is almost at its most basic -- there are no roads and no clean water, and insecurity is rampant."

When South Sudan declared independence this past July, Alier was given the unprecedented opportunity to help develop sustainable government systems for a new nation.

"The diversity of the SID program, both in its curricula and student body, prepared me for the things I do now," he says.

Alier's current work includes giving orientation training to local government administrative officers on understanding the constitutional requirements of planning and budgeting, administrative guidelines, community engagement, and gender inclusion and mainstreaming. His team is also helping government officials working with the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs to create a Council of Ministers' handbook.

"This is an opportune time for me to be doing this building of government capacity," he says. "Although this is the final year for our funding, we hope for an extension to continue providing this much-needed help to develop systems for this new nation."

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