Alumni Spotlight: Elijah Manyok, International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance Alumnus and CEO & Founder of Smile Again Africa Development Organization
May 20, New York — Mr. Elijah Manyok, alumni of the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance 52, offered by Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Science, was a young witness to the lengthy civil conflict in Sudan in the 90s and early 2000s. Elijah was born in the town of Bor, South Sudan, situated on the eastern banks of the White Nile. In northern Kenya, he grew up in Kakuma Refugee Camp after fleeing his place of birth because of increased danger from the conflict named above. In 1983, it would take nearly 21 years for the Compressive Peace Agreement (in 2005) to be signed and another six years for the South Sudanese to gain their independence in 2011. Though Elijah did indeed flee in 1991, it took him some years to settle in Northern Kenya. He sums up this experience:
“I spent three years (1991–1994) within the war zones and bushes of Southern Sudan wandering before joining the rest of unaccompanied minors who later became known as the Lost Boys of Sudan before making it to the refugee camp in late 1994.”
After this escape, his childhood was spent entirely in the camp, where he was able to undergo a primary and secondary education through the help of UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations. In 2007, at the age of 19, he decided to return to South Sudan and pursue the type of education that he had longed for via online and distance learning opportunities. He completed a Bachelor’s in Business Administration at the University of South Africa and a Master’s in Project Management with the University of Salford, based in the UK. His final academic endeavor, as we shall see, was with the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs.
“IDHA is a real ingredient for the growth in the humanitarian career as it provides one with a general overview of the entire humanitarian system and holistic organizational view. It is also as far as I am concerned the only course that brings about a balance of academics and practical experience from hands-on lectures and practitioners.”
This time, from his return to South Sudan to IDHA 52 in New York (approximately ten years), he populated his time with extensive service work. Elijah worked for various organizations within Africa, including the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and Save the Children International. The hallmark of this ten-year move into humanitarian work was establishing and managing a national non-governmental organization called Smile Again Africa Development Organization. SAADO was founded in 2011 and works across all the states of South Sudan to promote social cohesion and the empowerment of communities in tackling causes and factors relating to poverty and injustice. SAADO also provides humanitarian assistance to families affected by disaster and conflict while partnering with communities to alleviate poverty. Cause, indeed, for this region — plagued with war and fighting for decades — to smile, again.
SAADO has grown to be the leading National humanitarian and development Organization in South Sudan, reaching about one million vulnerable people every year with life-saving emergency response and resilience building for a sustainable future. SAADO has been recognized for their efforts, and was the 2018 recipient of South Sudan’s NGO award for “Most Innovative State-Society Building Initiative.”
As Elijah reflects on his work and studies, he cites the IDHA as providing him a complete grasp on the intersection between management and implementation of leadership. This learning style is crucial for his ongoing work, in which he facilitates leadership, direction, and development on all aspects of SAADO. He must also provide strategic guidance to county directors and program directors that might not have as much experience in the management side of things.
When looking back on what drove his commitment to service, Elijah notes:
“There was a strong calling in me to step up and help my people help themselves. Moreover, I was a product of humanitarian efforts myself after 13 years of being a refugee, totally relying on humanitarian assistance for my food, water, shelter, protection, and education all basics of life. I was therefore indebted to humanity and saw this as an opportunity to give back.”
For the founder of Smile Again Africa, it is no wonder that Elijah answered us with the following when asked what drives him to accomplish so much:
“The smile in the face of the last man, woman, boy, or girl I meet after saving his or her life and livelihood through our interventions.”
Written By: Michael Innocenti, IIHA Marketing and Communications Graduate Assistant
About the IIHA
The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) prepares current and future aid workers with the knowledge and skills needed to respond effectively in times of humanitarian crisis and disaster. Our courses are borne of an interdisciplinary curriculum that combines academic theory with the practical experience of seasoned humanitarian professionals. The IIHA also publishes on a wide range of humanitarian topics and regularly hosts a number of events in the New York area, including the annual Humanitarian Blockchain Summit and Design for Humanity Summit.
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