Seven South Sudanese teenagers whose families live in a Kenyan refugee camp, will now receive a high school education because of scholarships awarded by the South Sudan Center of America (SSCA), a local Las Vegas charity. SSCA was founded by Biar Atem, a Sands Cares Hero of the Year and Team Member at The Venetian and The Palazzo who was a South Sudanese “lost boy.” He was also named by Fortune magazine as one of the top 50 “Heroes of the 500.” The center seeks to assist and educate South Sudanese refugees living in the United States and abroad.
One of the students, Naomi Ajah Akim, said her father could not afford the next school term because his salary is “equivalent to 16 U.S. dollars.” Another student, Garang Makhor, could not afford to complete his education because his father was a casualty of South Sudan’s civil war.
“It’s remarkably inexpensive for us to make a huge difference in these kids' lives,” Atem said. “They can go to school for an entire semester for what many of us in the Unites States pay monthly for cable TV. Just that small amount can literally change their lives. It can save young women from unwanted marriages or from dead-end lives languishing in refugee camps.”
The civil war in South Sudan is “on the cusp of full-scale genocide,” according to a recent study from the Council on Foreign Relations. An estimated 2.2 million people have fled South Sudan in the past three years. Many of them, like SSCA’s scholarship recipients, languish in refugee camps in Kenya. The seven students were chosen out of 31 applicants because of their unique characters, grades, leadership qualities and commitment to contributing to the betterment of their communities. Each student will receive $600 this year to continue their high school studies.
“We’re a new organization and this is our first time awarding scholarships,” Atem said. “Hopefully news of our scholarship program will inspire more people to support the schooling of these and other kids. So far, our scholarships have been paid by our own board members, but we hope others will join us to assist more kids.”
The seven scholarship recipients include four girls and three boys.
· Naomi Ajah Akim, 9th grade, Afraha High, Nakuru, Kenya
· Akuot Makuei Ajak, 10th grade, Menengai High, Nakuru, Kenya
· Anyieth Abuoi Mayen, 10th grade, Nakuru Day Secondary, Nakuru, Kenya
· Rhoda Alek Deng, 9th grade, Menengai High, Nakuru, Kenya
· Ngor Garang Ngor, 9th grade, Upper Hill High, Nakuru, Kenya
· Garang Makhor Garang, 10th grade, Menengai High, Nakuru, Kenya
· Atem Deng Kuek, 10th grade, Maranda High, Kisumu, Kenya