3. Refugee to AAI Scholar: Overcoming Challenges to Pursue Education

Refugee to AAI Scholar: Overcoming Challenges to Pursue Education

Featured News 2023.06.20

Education is a gateway to opportunities and success, but circumstances can hinder access to quality education for some. Arok, a determined scholar from South Sudan, exemplifies the power of perseverance in the face of adversity.   

Arok’s journey began in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where his family sought refuge from civil unrest in his home country. Unfortunately, tragedy struck as he lost his father before birth, and at the age of two, his mother passed away. Arok recalls spending his childhood walking for extended hours under the burning heat in the Kakuma refugee camp and attending overcrowded classes provided by the United Nations Refugee Agency. He said, “The school and living conditions were challenging; classrooms did not always have ceilings. We also had very little food to sustain ourselves.” 

Arok encountered several obstacles on his educational path. After spending a few years at the refugee camp, he moved to live with his stepsister in Nairobi, hoping to attend school, but instead he spent two years caring for her child, losing touch with his academic abilities. Being mocked for not knowing basic concepts like counting or reading ignited Arok’s determination to prove them wrong. “I used to be sent home all the time because I could not pay school fees. Studying History and Social Sciences alone was easy, but studying Physics and Math independently was very difficult. However, I worked hard and got excellent grades,” Arok says. 

Borrowing books from his cousins, he focused on mathematics, in which he excelled. Reading was a challenge, limited to stolen moments when his stepsister’s child that he cared for was sleeping. Undeterred, Arok persisted. In 2011, Arok’s sister, was able to enter him into a public school. His hard work paid off as he passed his high school exams, triumphing over his difficulties.

Arok excelled in his studies, becoming the top student in his class. His inspiring story touched the hearts of parents at a prize-giving ceremony, resulting in generous donations to sponsor his high school education. This turning point affirmed his belief in a limitless future and fueled his aspiration to join a prestigious national school.   

Arok heard about the Ashinaga Africa Initiative through a friend. As a refugee, it was challenging for him to find the documentation and death certificates for his parents, but luckily, he was able to finish his application and succeed in receiving an offer from Ashinaga. Arok will pursue a bachelor’s degree in Political Sciences at the University of Richmond in the United States.

Arok’s journey continued to test his resilience, as his first student US visa application was rejected. “I was sad when I got the rejection from the US embassy, but the support from the Ashinaga staff made me more determined to try again,” he says. “I am thankful to have people to talk to whenever the world is against us.”

Before starting his university experience, Arok participated in the preparation year to receive academic, professional, and emotional support from dozens of other AAI Candidates. “So far, I am amazed by what I have been learning during the preparation year,” he says. “The preparation and study camps helped me improve my academics and develop a network of other young change-makers from all over the African continent.”

After completing his bachelor’s degree, he plans to pursue a master’s degree through the Ashinaga Masters in Africa program and potentially study in South Africa. Arok’s dream is to become the president of South Sudan and lead his country to a better future. He hopes that his studies in Political Sciences will equip him with the skills to introduce policies, programs, and government systems to empower refugees and ensure they have access to quality education.

“Wherever my mother is right now, I hope she is happy and proud of my progress,” Arok reflects. He hopes his story inspires other refugees and orphans to persevere and never give up on their dreams. “I am certain of my future now because of Ashinaga’s support. I hope my story will inspire other refugees and orphans to work hard and never give up on their dreams,” Arok expressed gratefully.

In conclusion, he shared that, “Receiving the offer from Ashinaga was a dream come true. People where I come from, cannot even dream of finishing high school, let alone attending university in the United States. You are the reason we have hope for a brighter future. Thank you to the Ashinaga team, donors, and everyone who supports us. Your contributions have made our lives easier—everyone in the Ashinaga family. The AAI is a life-changing opportunity and a dream for people like me. May you continue supporting Ashinaga and changing the lives of people like me. We will work hard to return the favor and extend support to others.”


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