Ms. Kathy Bunka

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Kathy Bunka, Fulbright Canada Student (1994-1995), working in the field in South Sudan.

Kathy Bunka's Fulbright experience (1994-1995) took her from McGill University to Harvard University to work on a comparative assessment of health care systems in the two countries. Since then, Kathy has had an exciting career in the Canadian Foreign Service, where she is currently a field officer in South Sudan. In an interview by correspondence with Fulbright Canada, Kathy recalled her Fulbright experience:

Fulbright Canada: Can you tell us a little about what you are doing now?

Kathy Bunka: My current assignment is as the field officer for the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START) at DFAIT. My job involves monitoring existing projects and developing new ones that contribute to the overall security and stability of the Sudan. The assignment began in Kampala, Uganda, when START was supporting the Juba Peace Process and assist in ending the conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army. When that process concluded the position and all programming shifted to Sudan. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was signed in 2005 between the main political party in the North and the main political party in the South, provided the foundation for extensive international support,  including the START investments which have contributed to the implementation of the CPA. The CPA provided for the referendum on independence for southern Sudan (held in January 2011), where southerners provided a very strong endorsement in favour of independence. In preparation for the referendum, START established 30 additional communication posts with solar-powered radios for the police service. This investment contributed to the peaceful and successful outcome of the referendum. With the CPA set to expire in July 2011, START is supporting the constitutional development process in the South, as well as other activities to prepare for the arrival of the world's 193rd and Africa's 54th nation. At the same time, START is supporting the African Union (AU) in its efforts to finalize negotiations between the North and the South in anticipation of independence for the South in July. It is very exciting to see this all come together.

FC:  What will you be working on in the coming year?

KB: In this type of environment, there is a need to maintain flexibility and respond rapidly to new developments. Knowing how to invest funds and achieve the desired outcome requires a familiarity with the political situation, as well as an understanding of economic and social developments. This will be a challenging year, fraught with many risks. Nonetheless, we are optimistic that the South and the North will reach agreement on the most critical issues, such as wealth-sharing and security and citizenship arrangements, prior to independence. There are also many issues in Darfur that remain unresolved, and START support for the AU/UN peace process will continue. Some issues will not be finalized by the end of the CPA period, but we will strive to keep both sides talking. In the coming year, I will do what is possible to maintain implementation of existing projects and support new projects, while taking efforts to mitigate the risks involved. This will continue to involve extensive travel to all parts of Sudan, including a planned visit to all three Darfur States and several states in southern Sudan.

FC: During your academic career you researched health systems, particularly in North America, and the role of international aid; how did that research lead you to where you are now?

KB: My studies in International Health at Harvard, and my thesis work in Ghana, which was conducted as part of the program, have been instrumental in how I go about programming in Sudan. At the most fundamental level, the principles for promoting international health are the same as those used for promoting international development generally:  sustainability, do no harm, caring about people, and respecting local priorities. The evidence suggests that unless a project is fully endorsed by the Government and identified as a local priority (with local ownership and leadership) it is unlikely to move forward. This is an important criterion for providing support. From a humanitarian perspective (and the perspective of an International Health graduate), it might be instinctive to spend all available funds on emergency health care, housing and food supplements - as the situation in many parts of Sudan is dire. Fortunately, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is moving to implement a comprehensive program in maternal and neonatal child health in Southern Sudan. START aims to support the sustainability of CIDA investments in health and other socio-economic sectors, by reconstructing war-ravaged regions, and investing in efforts like peace talks, constitutional debates, and land dispute resolution - efforts that will prevent a return to conflict.

FC: Looking back on your Fulbright experience from McGill University to Harvard University in 1994-1995, can you recall what led you to apply to the program?

KB: After completing Political Science studies at McGill, I was looking for a practical way to apply skills like political savvy.  I was also hoping to apply these skills in countries with greater political challenges than the ones we have in Canada. Harvard's program presented an international scope, an international student body, and the focus of the international health program which acknowledges the intersection between politics and international development.

FC: Can you tell us a bit about how your Fulbright year impacted you, either personally or professionally?

KB: I would say that while the United States and Canada both offer world-class economic opportunities, the approach of the education system and the manner in which people are taught at the Harvard Business School, the Kennedy School of Government, and the School of Public Health (I took classes at all three), differs in many ways from comparable institutions in Canada. Americans are much more business-oriented in general, and this taught me to view issues and approach my case studies from different perspectives. For example, while support for humanitarian needs and stabilization efforts is absolutely necessary and is contributing both to the implementation of the CPA and reduction of conflict here in Sudan, ultimately, this society will develop – and people will be healthier and happier – when investment takes off and provides employment and educational opportunities and a better quality of life. This is one reason why START is supporting land reform, because with proper land titles, investors will be drawn to this area. In other words, when development support promotes the private sector, it is a win-win situation.

FC: In your opinion, what is the value of educational exchange programs like Fulbright?

KB: While Canadians and American look so much alike, there are some fundamental differences in our political and economic fabric. An exchange program like the Canada-US Fulbright program helps participants to see things from another perspective. The benefit is that sometimes intrinsic beliefs are turned on their head, and in other cases, we are better prepared to defend longstanding national values and principles.

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