Understanding Society

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Sunday Heagbetus

image sunday haegbetus

The journey that Sunday Heagbetus made from his homeland Liberia until he arrived at Tilburg University can be called admirable to say the least. During the interview with Sunday, it becomes clear what this optimist endured before he could take a seat in the lecture halls in Tilburg to follow a master's economy (track sustainability & growth).


During his childhood, Sunday's parents both worked in health care as medical assistant and obstetrician. Because the family consists of seven children, it is necessary to work hard. There is no overflow, but the basic necessities of life and primary education are provided for all. The place of residence of the family is far from the hospital and therefore the medical knowledge of Sunday's parents is of great importance to the community. This also applies during childbirth of fellow villagers. When he was about 12 years old, his mother rushed to a young family, where the woman was about to give birth. The birth is going well. As there are few resources available, she decides to get some things that every mother needs for her new offspring. But on the way back, fate strikes when she is bitten by a poisonous snake. Because the village is so remote, the necessary medical help cannot be provided and a few hours later she dies. "I was about to write a major school examination when I heard that my mother had died," says Sunday. It marks the beginning of a long series of challenges that he must overcome, for only a year later, as a result of this incident, he also loses his father, who lost the battle with his inner tormentors. From that moment on, he is on his own and is also responsible for the care of his brothers and sisters.

Currency and kerosene

Without parental - and therefore financial - support at the beginning of his teens, he is self-reliant. In order to earn money and pay for his school, he changes currency in the evenings and sells kerosene that is used in lamps. "While changing money, I studied as hard as I could, because I knew how important school was." Over time, he was able to work at a petrol station and then even at a hotel. Here he meets by chance a hotel guest who works for the Ministry of Health. The two get down to talking and eventually he offers Sunday to pay his tuition fees if he wants to go to university.

Choosing a sustainable future

At the age of 19, on top of all the challenges,  Sunday's fiancé becomes pregnant. They get a daughter and want to build a family together, but he realizes that a child means extra responsibility. He concludes that studying is the best way to ensure a sustainable and good future in which he can provide for his family as well as for his brothers and sisters. He called the man who offered to pay for his first year of study. Not much later he left for the capital Monrovia to do a bachelor's in Economics at the University of Liberia. He arranges a room in the capital that he shares with another person. "In return, in addition to my studies, I had to do all kinds of household chores for the owner, such as washing and cooking. To make ends meet I started to help other students as a mentor and in the end I taught in several secondary schools. In exchange I sometimes got some money or food." After four years of hard work he earned his Bachelor's in Economics. Through his efforts and many (voluntary) activities during his studies, he builds up a lot of contacts and is offered a volunteer job as a research assistant at the University of Liberia, among other things. He has no shortage of capacities. With a bachelor's degree and a beautiful voluntary job, things finally start to move.

'I couldn't believe it'

Despite his success in Liberia, Sunday still sees his goals unfinished. "This is only the beginning", he says. He has experienced poverty and knows that, in addition to his difficult childhood, many others have to endure similar challenges on a daily basis. This means that every day you are worried about a place to sleep, your dinner, your family and your future. "I couldn't distinguish between breakfast, lunch and dinner, because I ate only once a day." Determinedly, he invests his hard-earned money in a laptop in order to apply for study grants and thus be able to follow a master's program abroad. The cooperation between the University of Liberia and Tilburg University provided a solution. "When I heard that I could come to Tilburg University, I couldn't believe it at first. It was really incredible. Only when I was in the lecture hall did I realize what I had achieved and tears rolled down my face. At the most important moment during my application for Tilburg University I had to sell my laptop again in order to pay the immigration costs. This opportunity is truly unique for me as a Liberian and it changes my life, but my focus is crucial. I cannot and must not fail! I am doing everything I can to make this a success. With my faith in God I have confidence."

Massive impact

"There is a saying: man's true nature is not how he behaves in times of comfort and convenience, but in times of challenge and controversy. It is important for any result-oriented person to turn obstacles and adversity into opportunities that are attainable." Sunday further tells about the enormous responsibility he feels. For his wife, his daughter, his brothers and sisters, his university, his fellow Liberians, his future and that of the country as a whole. "I try to be a source of inspiration for all of them, and I am terribly grateful that Tilburg University makes this possible. I have no idea who the alumni were who made this grant possible, but it allows me to change my own life and that of others. I am by no means the only one to benefit from this. My aim is to help Liberia move forward in order to get my beautiful country out of the economic downturn." He understands what it is to experience poverty, but has worked out there in an admirable way. Alumni scholarships can have a huge impact. It allows Sunday to shape the future. "I now want to do the same for Liberia and help others out of poverty by developing our economy."