Humanitarian worker fights for women’s education

Karak Miakol, right, leads humanitarian efforts to educate and empower women and children throughout Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda. (Diar for Rehabilitation and Development Association)

Karak Miakol was not allowed to attend school because of the cultural expectations of women in Sudan and within her family. However, she would often meet to play with her friend Habab who would read stories to her under a large tree in her Sudanese village. Habab even taught Miakol the alphabet. Though Habab taught her a lot, Miakol wanted to attend school just like her friend.

“I want to come,” Miakol said one day.

“You can come, but you have to come with your mom or your daddy,” her friend replied.

“They will never bring me,” Miakol said. But that didn’t stop her.

Maiakol recently told her story to a BYU audience. On days when she was supposed to take care of her brother, she would lock him in the house and sneak off to school. 

Miakol said her mother scolded her, beat her and threatened to kill her, but Miakol persisted. She didn’t want to be like the other women in her village whose sole purpose was to get married and have children. She wanted to become educated. She wanted to create her own path.

Eventually, Miakol’s father stepped in, saying that his wife should let Miakol continue her education because her persistence in pursuing an education would not stop.

Sometime after obtaining permission to attend school from her parents when she was 8, Miakol could not afford to pay for school, so she worked. As an 11-year-old, she began working for an oil company so that she could pay for exam fees.

During work, she would have to move 30-liter oil cans — equal to about 8 gallons.

“They were heavy. I remember I could not lift them. I just pushed them,” Miakol said. “But I was encouraged by other friends who were with me.”

After she had grown, many in her community struggled, and some even resorted to selling their children. Not wanting her family to struggle like others, Miakol’s father arranged for her to marry a scholar who promised he would help Miakol in her educational pursuits.

After the marriage, Miakol gave birth to their first child, but her husband didn’t fulfill his promise to support her education, and what her family thought would be a supportive marriage was exactly the opposite.

”He ended up abusing me, beating me, everything — closing me in and taking away all my certificates and put them in the latrine,” Miakol said.

She gave birth to their second child, and he had still not fulfilled his promise.

When Miakol gave birth to their third child, she’d had enough. With the help of her parents, Miakol snuck away from her abusive home during the day and attend school. Not only did she take care of her family and attend school, but she also worked.

However, after arriving home late one day, Miakol’s husband became suspicious. Because he worked for the government, he sent agents to watch her while he was at work and found that Miakol was attending school and working.

Recognizing the work Miakol put into not only attending school but also working to provide for the family, Miakol’s parents supported her. To escape her husband’s abuse, she moved to South Sudan, leaving him in the North.

Having fought to obtain an education and freedom from abuse, Miakol has since founded the Diar for Rehabilitation and Development Association to help women from places like South Sudan by arming them with education. But the journey was not easy. The risks she made acting against the wishes of government officials and the work she put into organizing the foundation have earned her the nickname “commander of nonviolent forces.”

“I believe a community where women are educated is a healthier community because mothers are women. To me, (they are) at the center of the living people because they are providers. They are kind, they are everything and they will provide good children — educated children,” Miakol said.

Now as the “commander of nonviolent forces,” Miakol helps women who struggle the same way she did by giving them power to choose for themselves and create their own paths.

“I give them a better living example,” Miakol said as recipient of the 2019 Center for Conflict Resolution Peacemaker Award.

BYU law professor David Moore talked about the importance of Miakol’s work and the projects that she and other humanitarian workers are involved in.

“I’ve had some insight into what’s happening in South Sudan. It’s a really depressing situation. It’s the most dangerous place on Earth for humanitarian aid workers,” Moore said. “And so to see the courage of people like this working to bring an end to the conflict and help those who are suffering as a result of the conflict is really inspiring.”

Miakol’s organization helps teach better farming methods, like using solar energy to aid farm irrigation systems.

Karak Miakol stands in front of solar panels used to irrigate farms. (Diar for Rehabilitation and Development Association)

It was during one of these projects when Miakol met Claron Twitchell, “the white man from Utah,” in Juba, the largest city in South Sudan. They met again several years later when Miakol arrived in the United States.

Twitchell, who is currently serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he asked her if he could send missionaries to meet with her. He said she agreed to meet with missionaries in the Denver, Colo., area and later joined the Church.

As an asylee in the United States, Miakol not only has supporters in South Sudan but also in the United States. Though far from home, she continues to bring awareness to issues like women’s education and beckons others to join the cause.

Miakol said if she could create something from nothing, then we can do even more with the technology and resources we have at our fingertips. To this effect, she said:

“If I started from scratch — from nothing, from the desert where there is no resource — we can do it here better. Much better.”

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