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Akuja Mading de Garang, M.B.E.
Akuja Mading de Garang was awarded the Member of the Order of British Empire (MBE) by Her Majesty the Queen for her services to the promotion of girls’ education and social development in South Sudan. She is currently working as Team Leader for Girls’ Education South Sudan Programme (GESS). She has over ten years' experience in the humanitarian and development sector. She has BA in African Studies and a Masters in Violence, Conflict & Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She speaks 5 languages Dinka, Arabic, Juba Arabic, English, basic Kiswahili and is currently learning; French!
Akudja, tell us about yourself and your journey to where you are today?
At the age of just eight years, the war forced my family to flee then Southern Sudan. My displacement journey took me from Juba to Khartoum, Cairo and then the UK. I returned to then Southern Sudan in 2004 (just before the CPA was signed), with a thirst to contribute to the rebuilding of my country of birth. Since then, I have worked for the UN and NGOs on issues such as protection, human rights, youth participation, governance, gender, health, conflict management, peace building, livelihoods, public sector reform and education.
In 2013, I joined the GESS programme which I now lead, at its’ height, with a team of about 300 national and international professionals working nationwide to tackle barriers to girls’ education in the country with an aim of helping to change the future of a generation of children in South Sudan especially girls through education.
In my free time, I work on researching, documenting, promoting and preserving South Sudanese cultural heritage. I set up a national NGO, PACH towards realising this objective. I also volunteer and support a number of initiatives including the Juba Orphanage and Confident Children Out of Conflict.
What was the key factor in your success?
I would say the key factor that has enabled me to be successful so far is my commitment to South Sudan, working with a team and always willing to listen and learn. Despite the challenges, I always maintain an optimistic and pragmatic view-point of life – which has kept me sane.
What were the challenges that you faced?
The conflict that is ravaging South Sudan is obviously the biggest challenge. What my team and I have managed to achieve so far is only a drop in the ocean of need and suffering surrounding us in South Sudan. Another challenge is being a woman. I often find myself having to work twice as hard to prove myself and make sure my voice is heard where and when needed.
Can you tell us the inspiring woman who inspired you?
There are many women who have inspired me but the one I would like to mention here is my mother. Despite her humble beginnings and being widowed young, she managed to put my siblings and I through education and has always instilled in us the importance of education, self-reliance, respect and compassion for others regardless of creed, age, ethnicity, gender and love for our country South Sudan.