Ten years ago, a group of Sue Counterman’s Middle School students listened to the story of orphaned Sudanese children—boys and girls—fleeing civil war in their home country. The story was told by Arok Garang, who was himself a “Lost Boy of Sudan” and founder of the Seeds of South Sudan, a nonprofit that funds the education of South Sudanese refugees.
Moved by what they heard, those Colorado Academy students vowed to raise money to support one Sudanese orphan. “I told Arok, ‘Find us a strong girl,’” Counterman says. “And she has turned out to be amazing.”
Ten years later, CA continues to support a “strong, amazing” young woman as she determinedly follows a path to academic and professional success, despite overwhelming odds.
‘Every penny goes to Aguil’
Aguil Lual Deng was only seven years old when the first donations arrived from CA and changed her life. At the time, she was just one of thousands of orphaned children who had fled genocide in South Sudan, only to find themselves enduring dust storms, high temperatures, and outbreaks of cholera and malaria in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp. But with the annual support of $1,200 from CA and the efforts of Arok Garang, Aguil was plucked from Kakuma and moved 350 miles south to the city of Nakuru. There, she began her education at Roots Academy, the top boarding school in the area. For the first time in her life, she had an education, school supplies, clothing, medical care, a home, and nourishing meals.
Each year, as a result of ongoing donations from CA Middle School students, Aguil studied side by side with other students in the Seeds of South Sudan program. “What I love about this is that CA Middle School students buy a ticket to a dance or a talent show, and every penny they spend goes to Aguil and has a lasting impact,” Counterman says. “CA students are changing a country and the world, which is part of our mission statement—and some day Aguil will change her country and the world.”
For her part, Aguil writes frequent thank-you notes to CA students. When she was 12, she wrote, “I am really working hard to achieve the fruits of education. My dream is to become a medical doctor. May you continue with the same spirit and may God bless you.” She graduated from primary school at the top of her class of 1,000 students. Of the more than 900,000 students who took the primary school final exam, she was one of 5,000 to receive a top score.
‘I will never let you down’
Counterman stayed in touch with Aguil by writing letters and Skyping. During the summer of 2017, she traveled at her own expense to Kenya for the first time to meet her at Njonjo Girls High School, the top girls school in Kenya. Counterman took clothes and shoes for Aguil, and in response to a special request, she included a copy of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. After 10 years of correspondence with Counterman, Aguil was astonished to discover that she is a woman. With the last name “Counterman,” Aguil had always assumed Sue was a man.
The uncertain, malnourished little girl, first supported by those CA Middle School students who are now in their early twenties, has grown into a tall, impressive young woman. “She is elegant—that’s the best word,” Counterman says. “She is poised, articulate, and determined, and in person, she has a great sense of humor.”
Scheduled to graduate from high school in December 2020, Aguil still dreams of becoming a doctor. This spring, she sent her most recent report card to CA, showing her strengths in math and science. Seeds of South Sudan already has two medical students enrolled at the University of Nairobi, so there is the potential for her to follow in their path. “She has the grades,” Counterman says. “She is on the right trajectory.”
The seeds planted in 2008 with CA Middle Schoolers looking for “a strong girl”—and Counterman’s consistent commitment to continue supporting that girl—have changed the life of one young woman on the other side of the world. Aguil will not forget how she has benefited from CA students’ generosity. In another letter, she wrote to them, “Keep supporting me; I will never let you down.”