A photo of Martin Tarkpor on his graduation day. Martin is wearing a blue suit and his graduation cap and gown.

An international student has graduated with distinction from Swansea University, despite COVID-19 restrictions preventing him from travelling to the UK at the start of his degree.

Martin Tarkpor, 31, had offers to study from several universities, but his experiences in his home country of Liberia led him to choose Swansea University's MA in Development and Human Rights.

"Emerging from a fourteen-year civil conflict that exposed our society to a host of human rights abuses and left us gravely undeveloped and fragile, the modules of this degree were very attention-grabbing to me.

"They reflected the exact image of challenges confronting my country as we endeavour to mend our broken nation," he continues.

Martin knew the Chevening Scholarship application process would be demanding and competitive, but the pandemic introduced additional complications.

"At one point, when COVID-19 cases and death rates intensified, I started growing nervous, and the fear of cancellation engulfed me.

"Notwithstanding, the Secretariat and the British Embassy in my country remained supportive as we navigated the COVID-19 hurdle."

The pandemic also meant Martin could not make it to the UK in time to start the programme, and instead, he joined online classes from his home in Nimba County.

"It was challenging considering that we are yet to experience the pace of technological advancement as in the western world," Martin confessed.

"Be that as it may, I was inspired by the fact that I could join sessions and, on many occasions, had good access to discussions, albeit with minor disruptions at times.

"It made me feel that my country is on the right path and that we could even do better if more Liberian students could study at universities like Swansea and understand the dynamics of development, conflict and human rights from an international perspective."

Midway through his first term, Martin was allowed to travel to Swansea, though restrictions meant he could not have much contact with fellow students and was limited to one hour of on-campus teaching a week.

Despite the difficult circumstances he faced, Martin adapted brilliantly and excelled in his studies, always with his family in mind.

"My primary source of motivation has been my family; I am the first to obtain a college education, not to mention coming as far as pursuing a postgraduate degree at an international institution.

"When my mother became critically ill in January 2021, things became really challenging for me; I became discouraged and decided to go back home to be with her, but she told me that the only thing that would make her happy was if I stayed and earned my degree with flying colours.

"She said I would be the light of my family and pave the way for the younger ones after me."

One of the proudest moments for Martin has been working on his highly original dissertation on the International Monetary Fund and its limited adherence to international human rights standards in its operations.

"Given that my country has a long history of seeking grants and loans from several international financial institutions – of which the Fund is one, I decided to investigate the human rights implications that emanate from the conditions attached to some of these loan agreements."

Martin hopes his hard work will positively impact his home country and already has plans in place to accomplish this.

"I have always said it's not an achievement if it does not positively affect ones' community and those around them; hence, I will be returning to my country to contribute to its rebuilding agenda.

"I will be going back as a research assistant on a project headed by one of my lecturers from Swansea University," Martin explains.

"The project will assess the impact of creating a motorcycle path to enable small-scale farmers in remote towns and villages across Liberia to get their local produce to the Liberian market and beyond.

"I also hope to seek employment opportunities with institutions advancing development and human rights advocacy in my country – UKaid, USAID, IRC, to name a few.

"My ultimate goal, however, is to establish a fully-fledged organisation to hone the leadership skills of the youth population of my country – the emerging leaders; to promote academic excellence through academic competitions such as debates, essay writing, panel discussions, and scholarship application processes.

"I want to help others develop job readiness skills and job application processes and have the opportunity to study at an institution like Swansea University."

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