Students & Campus
11 May 2021

Bassie Bondeva Turay Receives 2020-2021 Graduate Institute Community Scholarship

In the year I was born, my home country Sierra Leone was experiencing one of the world’s most brutal conflicts. The better part of my childhood was marked by the aftermath of that conflict, and growing up in post-conflict Sierra Leone, although a new haven of peace, was not short of myriad challenges. This Sierra Leonean childhood has significantly shaped my interests today and my possible career path. 

Growing up, I was well-informed about the socio-economic and political issues that plagued my country and her neighbours. My mother, a hard-working single parent, nurtured in me an indulgence in daily newspapers and BBC Network Africa on the radio. Every morning we would tune in to Network Africa while I got ready for school, and through that, I’d get to learn about the security issues plaguing neighbouring Liberia, or the socio-economic turnaround in faraway places like Rwanda.

At age 11, I too was on the radio regularly as a lead presenter for a national children’s radio programme in affiliation with the United Nations Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL). There, I led discussions about major issues affecting Sierra Leonean children and youth. I also enjoyed reading extensively about my country’s history.

I grew up questioning why my country was underdeveloped despite its abundance in natural resources; how we went from being a model country for educational excellence in Sub-Saharan Africa to barely managing a broken education system; or why voting in elections country-wide had always been a tribalistic affair.

My life took an interesting turn in 2014 when I was awarded a merit-based scholarship to study at the United World College Red Cross Nordic (UWC-RCN), in Norway. UWC brings young people together from around the world and fosters ideas of global peace and sustainable futures within its curriculum.

There, I was given the opportunity to engage at a deeper level with people from around the globe, and to understand what unique and similar struggles our communities faced. That experience broadened my horizon and caused me to develop a more global outlook on things. It also informed my decision to pursue my undergraduate studies in International Relations at the University of Rochester.

The combined experiences of my childhood, years at UWC, and my undergraduate endeavours (academic and professional), all set the stage for my decision to undertake a Master in Development Studies at the Graduate Institute.

I chose the Graduate Institute because of the school’s remarkable reputation in the field of international relations and development, as well as the high calibre of its diverse community of faculty and students. The many opportunities that are available to students here also set it apart from the other options I considered. More importantly, I would not have been able to study here without the generous financial support I have received from the Institute and I am grateful to have been awarded the Community Scholarship.

Since commencing my studies, I have developed a better sense of the global challenges we face both today and in the past. I am also essentially learning how I can contribute to rethinking the strategies employed in solving some of these pressing problems. I have been fortunate to undertake exciting assignments, like my current Capstone project with the UN World Tourism Organization, which will directly benefit my home country.

I have no doubt that my two years at the Institute will prepare me well for my future career endeavours. Post-graduation, I want to focus on working with local communities to foster sustainable development, particularly in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. I am convinced, more than ever, that the Graduate Institute is the best place for me to be able to realise this vision.

Bassie was Co-licensee and Lead Organiser of the first TEDxYouth event in Sierra Leone. More information: TEDxYouth@Kingtom

Since 2013, the Graduate Institute community – the Foundation Board, administrative personnel and faculty, as well as retired professors – has mobilised to raise funds that provide a full scholarship for a student from the Global South. These funds are awarded annually as a show of solidarity with the Institute and with those students who would not be able to study in Geneva without financial aid.