We’re pleased to announce that Mary Awak Deng Aguer will be amongst the new students that we sponsor in 2013. Mary Awak Deng Aguer is one of the student’s we have committed to sponsoring this year. Our President, Dut Bior, met with Mary during his trip home to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in October 2012.
“It has always been my wish to continue with my studies not only to empower myself but also to be able to help others in South Sudan.”
Mary Awak is a vibrant young woman who we have accepted into our program to help her pursue a higher education. She was born during the Sudanese Civil War, which took many loved ones and opportunities away from her. As a consequence, neither her nor her parents could afford to pay for her college tuition and fees, and she has little chance of receiving a scholarship because she is a female in a country where female literacy rates are among the lowest in the world. Nevertheless, she has distinguished herself with every opportunity she has been given – even while being confined to a wheel chair. It is her greatest hope to find personal empowerment through education so she can return to help others in war-torn South Sudan. She is currently residing in Nairobi, Kenya, where SOAP will work in conjunction with her and local schools to find the best fit for her.
Join us in changing Mary Awak’s life here.
We flew into Entebbe, Uganda last night and drove to the capital city of Kampala where
we’ll be staying for the next few days. Malaak met us at our hotel and stayed the night
with us so we could all drive to his graduation ceremony together this morning.
We left our hotel at 7am so we’d be able to make it through traffic and to Ndejje
University by 830am, when Malaak needed to be there. At about 825, we made it to the
top of the dirt road leading to the university and found ourselves in a very slow moving
procession of cars heading to the graduation. There were gift peddlers selling flowers
and medallions and even “express photos,” which they took with cameras and printed
on the spot, while families waited in this traffic.
It must have been 2 hours later when we finally started to get close to the graduation
grounds but we still weren’t parked and there were people out of their cars walking
faster than all of our slow moving cars. Malaak decided to get out to find out what was
going on. I was eager to get out with him and get to the graduation – we’d traveled too
far to miss it!- but the others I was with thought it was a bad idea. They didn’t think we’d
be able to find each other or find our driver if we split up, so I was forced to stay in the
slow moving car as my anxiety increased.
We finally parked the car and made it into the graduation about 11am. Fortunately for
us, they seemed to have just started by the time we arrived. Malaak took his seat with
his classmates and the rest of us walked toward the front where the other people with
video cameras were standing.
The ceremony was held outdoors, but just about everyone besides people with cameras
were sitting under a tent of some kind. It was very hot despite the gray clouds in the sky.
We stood under a shady tree part of the time but walked up to the front area pretty often
to see what was going on. A group of performers played a traditional Ugandan song and
danced. It was fantastic.
After some time, it was announced from the podium that they would begin calling
names of the “graduands.” We were a little disappointed to hear that they requested
the student stand up when their name was called, rather than walking up the red carpet
(which was layed out on the grass, leading to the podium. Nevertheless, we were
excited to finally hear Malaak’s name get called.
About an hour later they were still calling names but hadn’t yet called Malaak’s. I looked
in the program at the list of graduates and found that they were still a few full pages
away from his class. Jason, the audio recordist on the film making team, was standing
out by the PA speaker, recording the names as they were called (so the documentary
team would have that recording from Malaak’s graduation).
It had sprinkled a little, earlier in the morning, but just as we were nearing the time for
Malaak’s name to be called, it really started pouring. We had a large umbrella (which we
were using for shade from the sun), but it wasn’t enough to cover us all now that the rain
was falling fast. I ran for cover under the crowded tents. Jason and our driver, Achilles,
used the umbrella to cover the audio recording equipment, so he could continue to
record the student’s names as they were called. 10 minutes later it was raining so hard
that even they had to run for cover.
The rains stopped a little while later and they were still calling names. Fortunately, they
still hadn’t read Malaak’s name and the sun was out again. I took some pictures with
Malaak and everyone except for Jason went to the car to put the gear away. 15 minutes
later he met up with us, after they’d finally called Malaak’s name.
It was a great day for Malaak and I was happy to be with him to share in his success. An amazing moment to see his and our hard work pay off, that his life has been changed so dramatically through the power of education.
He worked hard for his degree and now he’s ready for the next challenge: finding a job!
This blog post is part of a series from our founder Dut Bior’s trip to Kenya and Uganda in October 2012.
This morning we woke up at 4am and met our driver in front of our hotel at 430am. We
headed to the airport and, after some trouble finding the correct terminal for our UN flight
to Logichoggio, finally boarded our plane about 7am.
We arrived at the small airport about an hour later. Next, we waited around with the other
30 (or so) passengers. There was supposed to be an armed escort traveling with our bus
to Kakuma. When the bus and escort vehicles arrived we all piled in and began the drive
across Turkana district.
We pulled into Kakuma around 930am but it was very strange for me because I didn’t
recognize that part of the camp at all. I was told later that it had been build after I left in
We were to stay in the LWF (Lutheran World Foundation) area, just outside the actual
refugee camp where I lived for so many years. We were shown to our individual cabins and
given a late breakfast in the cafeteria; I immediately began to recognize faces and found
people who had been at Kakuma from before I had left. It was surreal to begin seeing old
friends and acquaintances again.
A short meeting had been called on our behalf with a few of the camp’s directors. They
briefed us on the situation in the camp (regarding education, security, activities, etc) and
I had an opportunity to speak with the director about potential employment for Malaak
in Kakuma or at the LWF camp in South Sudan. He had good suggestions for me and also
wrote a very positive letter of recommendation which I think will help Malaak out a lot.
It was during that short meeting that I first began to sense some of the contrast from
my former life in Kakuma to my new one in the United States. It was so hot in the little
room we met in, with no AC and no circulating air. And, despite the air outside being
considerably cooler than a hot, hot Kakuma summer, I was sweating a lot and felt
After the meeting we jumped into the vehicle that had been arranged for us and entered the
camp. Seeing the shops and people inside flooded my mind and heart with remembrance. It
was very emotional for me to be back.
Our first stop was my old secondary school (“high school,” in the US). We spoke with the
principle there, who was one of my old teachers. She allowed us to interview her and, after
that, the film crew continued interviewing other teachers and students.
While they were capturing videos of these interviews I wandered off to my old community.
I ran as fast as I could to get there quickly and was really happy to meet many people from
my old Kakuma family. One of the kids I met, who I had not known from my days living
in the camp, told me he had just finished high school but that there was nothing else for
him to do, nowhere for him to go. My heart melted inside as my eyes flooded with tears. I
wanted more than anything to help him continue his education and move beyond that life
Later in the day, we drove together to my old community in the camp. It had been renamed
but it looked and sounded exactly as I had remembered it. There were children in the dirt
road where we stopped. They surrounded us and were saying all kinds of things to me.
Seeing them all there, so young and so much like I once was, was almost too much for me
to handle. The songs in the distance were sung by members of my old neighbor-family. As
I soaked all of this in, my heart nearly leapt from my chest. Back in my old home, Kakuma,
an intense realization of where I had come from and what I had now become made me
feel someway I had never felt before. It was all I had expected it would be and much, much
Back at the LWF camp we ate and went back to our respective rooms to sleep. Mine had
no working fan or air conditioning and I found it hard to sleep. I was tired and wanted to
prove to myself that I could survive as I once had in this place, so I endured the discomfort
and forced myself to try to sleep. After an hour or more I realized I wouldn’t be able to fall
asleep in those conditions. I found someone from the camp staff to help make my room
more comfortable and, afterwards, finally I was able to sleep….
Last night I went to bed late. When I woke up at 7:30am, I had only slept for two and a half hours. I
started to get ready for the day and, as I was finishing up brushing my teeth, I started to get very anxious
about going to see my mother and everyone else.
Day 1 Experience in Nairobi:
I woke up at 7am and finished packing my clothes. I was so excited that I didn’t even remember to eat breakfast. Today is the day I’ve been waiting for a long time. I’m finally going back to Kenya.
I called my friend, Abio. On the phone, he told me to arrive at the airport about 2 hours early for an international flight. At 9:30 am I left my bedroom, put my backpack on, and went to the road to wait for him. When he didn’t show up I started to have a bad feeling but I did my best to ignore it. Abio finally showed up – as it turned out, he had actually been pulled over by the police on his way to get me – and we hurried to the airport. I rushed to get through security and met up with my friends and we boarded the flight just before it was to take off.Thirty minutes before we were supposed to board, Amy, one of the girls I’m traveling with (who’s making the documentary about this journey) called me to find out where I was. She said that my other travel companions were already through security and ready to go. I made it to the plane just in time.
In Los Angeles, where we were connecting to a flight for Amsterdam, we had to leave the airport and wait for a bus to take us to our transfer terminal. It was hot and so inconvenient and it made us all feel stressed about getting to the gate on time. (To make matters worse, when we finally got to our terminal, we had to wait in another long line to go through airport security again.)
The internal flight to Amsterdam was really cool because I met some really inspiring people. One was an international student from Qatar who told me a story about a friend who’s dad was very rich and passed away leaving this friend all his wealth. This guy spent all the money flying around and having a good time but now that it’s all gone he’s left to beg for the help of others. I thought that if I had been that kid given his current situation, I would have taken it as a learning experience to use for my benefit. As long as we’re all still breathing there is always still time for personal improvement.
From Amsterdam we flew for another seven and a half hours and finally arrived in Kenya a little after 8pm (Kenya time). It had been something like 19 hours we’d be traveling. I was so happy and excited to finally be in Kenya after almost 7 years. I haven’t been here since I left the Kakuma refugee camp in 2006. I feel blessed because I finally got to meet my younger brother in person. Malaak was also at the airport with him.
It’s almost 3:30 am now in Nairobi and I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over two days, I’m totally exhausted, but I still don’t feel comfortable going to sleep, knowing my mom is so close and I still haven’t seen her. I can’t wait for tomorrow when I’ll finally get to see her again…
Dut has arrived safely in Kenya.
He says “I am so happy and excited to be in Kenya after almost 6 years. I can’t wait to see my mom, family and also go to Malaak’s Graduation. Thank you for wishing me best of luck throughout my trip. I arrived safely and sound!”
Thank you all for your support! Put in your Name and email in the box to the right to keep updated on Dut’s journey.
Today, Dut returns to Africa after almost 6 years. While there he will see see his Mother for the first time in over 20 years, spend time with his brother and attend the graduation of S.O.A.P International student, Malaak.
He will also be working with a film crew, sending updates when he can and photographing life in different parts of Africa to help us fully understand the need to educate the young people there. We believe that education is the key to bettering life, creating community, and strengthening families that, without your help, may not have had those opportunities.
Subscribe to this blog, or follow us on Facebook to keep updated on the trip.
Our founder, Dut Bior, was selected for the Your 11 Heroes of 2011 slideshow on ABCNews. This is a tremendous accomplishment for our organization and for Dut, as he strives to keep his message of paying it forward and vision alive. We have been very lucky to have the support of our attorneys, our web programmer Jamal, our support systems and mentors. We will begin to implement larger-scale fundraising campaigns, while running two chapters – one in Seattle and one in Salt Lake City. Our goal is to be able to bring on more students as our organization grows.
We believe that if we can’t change the entire world, then we can at least change one person’s world and that’s what we aspire to do. To better the world, one person at a time. Thanks ABC, for helping us achieve that.