I’m writing my update from the world’s newest country: South Sudan. When I joined the MPhil cohort in Fall 2004, I had vague notions of coming to Africa, and chose courses in the “developing world” track. Africa-based job prospects at the end of the course, however, were slim for a young engineer without field experience, and so I returned to the USA for 4 years to work on sustainability policy (first, energy efficiency and later, university-level sustainable education programs). Soon after marrying a fellow ESDer, we moved to South Sudan where he had work managing the construction and start-up of a small market-town electric utility.
For our first year, I found odd jobs consulting for various NGOs, most notably managing a food distribution program following wide-spread drought. This provided great experience in managing local staff and dealing with the challenges that are inherent in post-conflict contexts. Through this work, I also managed to forge relationships with local officials who were beyond-thrilled to learn that they had an underemployed Cambridge-educated engineer in town. Subsequently, I was put to work conducting the town’s first land survey and have just begun demarcating plots, allowing for organized private land ownership in what has to-date been squatter-style settlement.
Though it has taken me nearly 7 years (wow!) to put them to use, the course sequence that I took in the MPhil has enabled me to approach this survey and demarcation project from a holistic perspective.
While the local officials expected only a plan for plot layout and road design, I have been able to challenge them to think about integrating water and sanitation improvements and nature set-asides as they consider a long-range plan. Within the next month, I hope to have 250+ plots ready for sale and have my fingers crossed that the local staff which I have trained can continue demarcation even after I return to the US in September to begin a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning where I plan to focus on comprehensive sustainable development planning in rural communities.