Fulbright Scholarship: Disability Did Not Stop Him From Reading Law in the US

Alexander Palai is a Fulbright Scholar. He graduated with a Master of Laws Degree (LLM) at the University of Miami.  Alexander had polio infection at the tender age of two years old. The infection almost crippled him. However, it did not stop him from achieving his goal of becoming a lawyer.

An inspiring story of determination. Read on…

Polio Infection and Disability

I was born in a very remote jungle location in the Finschhafen District of Morobe Province in 1962. Two (2) years after my healthy birth, poliomyelitis (polio) epidemic swept through the District. I fell victim to polio. It almost totally crippled my arms and legs. I grew up struggling with my physical disabilities.

Set goal, early

I enrolled at the local school when I reached school age. Because of my disability, I could not participate in activities that normal children did. I turned my attention to my school work and excelled academically.

I made up my mind very early in school that I had to become a lawyer so I could have a better life. Failure in any stage of my schooling was never an option (as I could not go back and survive in my village setting).

Study law at UPNG

I worked hard to achieve my goal of becoming a lawyer. I was always in the top 1 per cent of the students in the country in primary and secondary schools during my time. And, easily proceeded to study law at UPNG (University of Papua New Guinea) in 1981.

Again very early in law school, I wanted to specialise in the laws relating to natural resources, particularly mining and petroleum law. So after completing law school at the Legal Training Institute (LTI) in 1985, I joined the State Solicitor’s Office of the Attorney General’s Department.

Corrective surgery

While being employed there as a young lawyer, I elected to go back to the hospital to undergo a major orthopaedic corrective surgery to regain proper use of my crippled right foot.

Thankfully God restored the use of the rest of my arms and legs which I struggled with in my school life. I spent about eight (8) months in Port Moresby General Hospital and another 12 months recovering at home.

Fulbright Scholarship application

It was during that time that opportunity presented itself for me to apply for the most prestigious United States Gov’t scholarship – Fulbright Scholarship! I received the Fulbright Scholarship, with the guidance of Mr Salamo Injia (later to be Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia, who was himself a Fulbright scholar).

With all costs met by the US federal gov’t, I boarded the plane and left the shores of PNG (for the first time) and pursued my dream of becoming the first PNG mining & petroleum legal expert.

(If you want to apply for the Fulbright Scholarship, here is how to apply)

fulbright scholarship STUDY IN US
Alexander Palai (back) with a school mate in Manhattan, New York City, August 1988 | Image supplied

Study in the US – Fulbright Scholarship

I studied relevant courses and programs at Georgetown University in Washington DC during my early years in the US. Due to my medical situation, I transferred down to the subtropics in the City of Miami, Florida.

In the summer of 1989, I graduated with a Master of Laws Degree (LLM) from the University of Miami. I returned to PNG and assisted with the first oil and gas project in PNG, the Kutubu petroleum project as it is known today.

I spent the next four (4) years, in and out of New York City, understudying the world-renown legal experts based in New York City (UNCTC at the 2nd UN Plaza building).

Visit iconic sites

Apart from my academic and professional training in the US, I also managed to visit many iconic sites and institutions. And out of 50 states, I visited 20 states of the United States of America.

My specialized work in the mining & petroleum industry also took me to many other countries in the world.

Editor’s Note

We saw a tweet from Alexander about his academic life and reached out to him. In fact, we have no idea about his humble beginnings.

We are delighted to publish Alexander’s story. He did not let his disability stop him from achieving his goal of becoming a lawyer. He went to UPNG, studied law, practised law, and received the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship!

An inspirational story of setting a goal early and working towards achieving it.

We publish Alexander’s story through the PNG Writers’ Corner Initiative. This is an initiative to inspire the young Papua New Guineans to set goals, work hard, study hard; and contribute meaningfully to the development of our beautiful country.

If you have a story, share it with us. Email us at info@pnginsight.com or message us on Twitter.

About the writer

Alexander holds a Master of Laws Degree (LLM) from the University of Miami. He is a freelance legal consultant with more than 10 years of legal consultation expertise.

Alexander believes that he has played a small part (among other Papua New Guineans who have done great things for the country) in the last 30 years.

He said

“Life is God’s gift to you, and what you do with it is your gift to God.” Alexander Palai, LLB, LLM.

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Fulbright Scholarship Study in US

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Leslie Bahn Kawa

    Great inspiration for many young able people in PNG.

    Congratulations pathfinder

  2. Kenneth Unamba

    Well done brother, have always been proud of you

  3. Elliot Raphael

    Alexander’s story doesn’t stop there. His influence in the National Gas Corporation that is set to make a profound change in petroleum equity sharing for all provinces and the unfortunate passing of his beloved wives are stories to behold. He is a dedicated Papua New Guinean who does not beat his chest despite the many good things he does.

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