September 8, 2021

How do you find hope in the face of violence, tragedy and crushing adversity? How do you stay optimistic? How do you keep fighting when the odds are against you? Peace activist, scholar and former political prisoner Dr. Peter Biar Ajak shared his thoughts, relaying the circumstances and his experiences of civil war in South Sudan, which claimed the lives of some 400,000 and displaced another 3.5 million. Today, seven-plus years later, the situation is dire. The country ranked last in the world on the 2020 Social Progress Index and in the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, tied for last place with Somalia. South Sudan’s currency has lost more than 98 percent of its value. At age 37, Dr. Ajak is yet to vote in an election there. 

“We are a country that is broke,” said Dr. Ajak, a University of Cambridge PhD and director of the South Sudan think tank Center for Strategic Analyses and Research. “Why should we continue to hope and believe that a better future is possible? The answer is: definitely, we have to hope. The way is by reflecting, first of all, on what we have overcome. It doesn’t mean that we naively just think things are going to change for the better. It would require us individually and collectively to assess, learn and then see what we can do – and to have ownership over our struggle: the belief that you can own your own destiny.”

Joining Dr. Ajak as panelists were former Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer, an adjunct professor of practice at UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, and Dr. Kari Grain, UBC educational consultant, in a virtual discussion July 23. The newly formed Scholars at Risk and Human Rights Collective that is part of UBC Office of Regional International Community Engagement organized the event entitled, “Critical Hope in the Public Sphere.” 

Watch the full virtual discussion, “Critical Hope in the Public Sphere.”

Find out more about Scholars at Risk and UBC’s Office of Regional and International Community Engagement.

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Dr. Peter Biar Ajak

From South Sudan, Dr. Peter Biar Ajak is a peace activist, scholar and former political prisoner (photo: Dr. Peter Biar Ajak)


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