Athok Abuoi defies the odds in Kakuma Refugee Camp to become ‘Best Girl’ in Turkana County.
In 2008, at just ten years of age, Athok Abuoi Chol fled her home in the Upper Nile State in South Sudan to escape ongoing conflict in her country. In class three when she left South Sudan, Athok Abuoi was fortunate to have the support of her uncle once she arrived in Nairobi, who helped her continue her schooling.
Whether a young girl finishes her primary education can dramatically impact the opportunities available to her later in life. When girls stay in school, they are less likely to be forced into an early marriage or experience gender-based violence. When girls are educated, they increase their potential for higher lifetime earnings and are more empowered to participate in the development of their communities.
But in 2011, Athok Abuoi’s uncle became unable to continue his support for her education. Determined to continue her studies, she decided to move into the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya where primary education is free for refugees. Soon after arriving, she began her class six studies at Bhar-el-Naam Primary School.
Athok Abuoi was determined to do well. She devoted most Saturdays and holidays to attending remedial classes through a joint initiative between Windle Trust Kenya, WUSC, and the 60 Million Girls Foundation. These remedial classes offered girls who had demonstrated promising potential in their studies extra support to catch up on their homework and build their confidence. In addition to lessons, young girls attending the remedial classes were provided access to much needed supplies, such as solar lamps, sanitary pads, school uniforms and textbooks.
Reflecting on her time at Bhar-el-Naam, Athok Abuoi said, ‘I benefited more in Social Studies, Mathematics and Kiswahili which are the subjects I didn’t perform well in”. Her hard work paid off; last year after completing her final Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams, she scored 82 marks in Social Studies, 83 marks in Mathematics and 87 marks in Kiswahili.
In 2013, she was offered a place at the only primary boarding school in the camp. In her final year of primary studies, Athok Abuoi defied the odds and was named ‘best girl’ in Turkana county after obtaining one of the highest overall marks in the final Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams.
Athok Abuoi says her parents, who are back in South Sudan, have been her greatest motivation. Even at a young age, they instilled in her a strong belief in the transformational power of education. They told her that “Educating a girl is like educating the whole society.” This message has had a profound impact on Athok Abuoi.
Next year, she hopes to be reunited with her older cousin at Alliance Girls High School in Nairobi. When she graduates from secondary school, she hopes to reconnect with WUSC and join the Student Refugee Program so that she can study neuroscience at a Canadian university. She hopes to one day return to South Sudan as a neurosurgeon where she can give back to her community and be a positive role model for other young girls.
Athok Abuoi recognizes the importance of having positive female role models. Her advice to other young girls is, “The environment under which you study does not matter as long as you focus on your studies and have the right support. If I made it you can as well.” Congratulations Athok Abuoi!
This story is part of a series recognizing the remarkable achievements of young women and girls for International Women’s Day, as well as the important work being done for gender equality. You can read the next installment, “Empowering Afghan Women and Girls through Education” here.