News Story

Vanuatu Mother of Three Overcomes Obstacles, Graduates from University

Maria Kupun Mael, born in Papau New Guinea always dreamed of getting a university degree.

 "I did not know how I would make my dream come true because of my family’s financial situation," she said.

Things changed when she joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2004.  Within two years of joining the Church she was called to serve as a full-time missionary, assigned to serve in Vanuatu. 

After completing her mission she returned home to Papau New Guinea. A member of the Church from Vanuatu named Luke Robert Mael contacted Maria and proposed marriage to her. 

She accepted his proposal, married him, and moved to Vanuatu in August of 2008.   


Maria and Luke started their family together and were soon blessed with a daughter and later a son. 

As Maria was raising this young family the dream of continuing her education and bettering herself would not go away. Things were difficult financially in her young family, and Maria started weaving bilums (PNG bags) to sell in order to help support the family.

Her dream of pursuing a degree never faded. "I always prayed about it and knew that one day it would come true" she said.   

In 2012 Maria met a senior education sister missionary from New Zealand named Ruth Maha who handed her an application form for the Church's Perpetual Education Fund. Sister Maha told Maria that she would qualify for this assistance and be able to get back to school.  

The Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) loan program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helps members of the Church of all ages get an education that often leads to a job. This program has touched the lives of more than 90,000 individuals around the world since it began in 2001. With the help of the PEF, Maria enrolled at the University of the South Pacific Emalus Campus in Vanuatu in 2013. 

Pursuing her education was not easy for Maria. She had her third child prior to finishing her degree.  She took four courses per semester, which was "not that easy," she says.

She usually walked to her classes, one hour each way instead of taking the bus in order to save money, so her children would not go hungry. 

Several friends and relatives criticized Maria's decision to pursue her education, telling her she needed to stay home and take care of her family. These criticisms hurt Maria and she turned to the Lord in prayer for comfort. She had confidence that she could succeed and she believed in herself.

Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in 2015 and destroyed Maria's house leaving her homeless for a week.

"All my tax books and course books were destroyed," Maria said.

Not to be deterred, she borrowed those books from the library and continued on with her studies.  Maria had no internet in her house so she used the school's internet to do her research and to download or read her notes. 

Throughout all of these struggles, Maria was very grateful for her good husband Luke. 

"My husband was very supportive in my studies, despite the negatives, he said to never give up.  He took care of the kids while I went to school to attend classes and to submit my assignments," said Maria. 

Maria graduated on 30 November, 2018, five years after beginning her studies. Her husband and three children attended her graduation ceremonies.  She received a Bachelor in Commerce double majoring in Management and Public Administration and Sociology. She is believed to be one of the first Latter-day Saint women in Vanuatu to graduate from university.   

Maria has enrolled again in the University of the South Pacific to obtain a Masters in Business Administration (MBA).  After completing her Masters degree she has plans to study to obtain a PhD.  

Maria has been inspired by scriptures and quotes from Church leaders. 

“Prophets and apostles teach that education is an eternal principle," said Maria.  

Quoting Latter-day Saint apostle, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, she says: “For members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea—it’s a commandment." 

"I want to be a good role model to my children on this island. That is to be qualified, get a secure job and become more self-reliant and to serve others. I believe the Lord will provide a way for me to get this done as he has done to Nephi [a prophet in the Book of Mormon]. The Lord wants us to prosper in life and to prosper we need to have faith in ourselves, move forward, overcome the challenges and achieve our dreams."

*Editor's Note:  This story was modified on 14 Jan. 2019 to reflect new information received.

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