Teacher, Filmmaker, Model, Entrepreneur, Cape Town, South Africa
Akuol's journey began in Cuba, carried onward to Kenya, New York and now South Africa. She is the daughter of the late John Garang de Mabior (leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the first Vice President of Sudan) and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, a South Sudanese politician, fighter for peace in a war torn country and an advocate for women's equality (who has served as the Minister of Roads and Transport for the autonomous government of Southern Sudan and as an advisor for the President of South Sudan.) Meeting Akuol was an example of South Africa serving as a melting pot for so many African nations, with sons and daughters attracted by the opportunities in the Mother City. Akuol modestly describes her journey and accomplishments but the title of this feature doesn't even begin to sum up her strengths. After spending years flying around the world, modelling, Akuol returned to Africa, to pursue her studies, finish three independent films, currently teaches at the University of Cape Town and actively learning about keeping bees and creating products from beeswax. I met her through the fantastic women of Embrace Dignity - women’s human rights organization advocating for law reform to end sex trafficking and the demand for prostitution. Akuol sits on the board. During our brief meeting I believe I only scraped the surface of her story. Looking forward to following this young woman on her journey to self-discovery and learning from her future endeavours.
Akuol Garang de Mabior.
2. Where is your hometown?
I grew up in Nairobi, Kenya.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I am a postgraduate student at the University of Cape Town and an aspiring filmmaker.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of?
My journey has not been straight forward. I’ve lost my footing and regained it once or twice. I feel energized and enthusiastic about my current path and grateful for the mistakes I have made to be where I am today.
Towards the end of my modelling career, I felt I had done real damage to my soul. It was a slow but sure chipping away over the years. And then one day I looked up, and it was as though something devastating had happened to me and I could not explain or describe it. I see now that one aspect of it was the accumulation of casual body shaming. My scorched scalp, my protruding bones - in single scattered doses it all seemed insignificant, but then finally it came down on me so hard that I am still trying to recover the health of my body image. I ended my modelling career, I left New York, I went back to school. The moment I stopped regarding these choices as marks of regression, my life changed. I had a revolution of values, a breaking point that was painful but the growing kind.
My journey so far has taught me that feeling good is not necessarily or always good and feeling pain should not be too hastily avoided. I hope my greatest accomplishments are yet to come.
I am most proud of my decision to go back to school.
5. What did you study in school?
I studied film and media production with additional majors in film and tv studies, media and writing and gender studies. I am currently doing a second degree in film theory and practice.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
I wasn’t thinking this far into the future at 20. I was preoccupied with the weekend and having a good time.
7. What was your biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
I spent my first 2 years at university floundering and failing. I returned over 5 years later to finish my degree with distinctions in all four majors.
8. Advice for other women?
Exercise your imagination so that you can imagine better futures for us all.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it for "feminist values"?
I see a feminist future that is African in the countless ways that we, as African people, perceive our African identities.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
I say home is where my mother is.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
I keep bees and recently started making all-natural lip balm with my sisters and a friend. It’s a hobby that I’m proud of because I love what we are producing.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
I want to make films about black African women living in Africa that challenge how we think about our past, present and future selves.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
I have on very rare occasions had the great fortune of taking walks alone at night and I love it. In most places that I have lived it is considered appropriate for a woman to be afraid of being alone outside at night. I wish this were not the case and we could feel safe in public all the time.
14. Anything you'd do differently if you had another go at life?
15. What inspires you?
People who stand for justice even when they sometimes must stand alone, even when it sometimes may hurt them. Courageous people.
16. What are you hopeful about? Learning to grow old well.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
care, love, community, passion, work, poetry, writing, reading...
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self? Listen to your mother and father.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I am reading the Invention of Women by Oyeronke Oyewumi. The last to books I gave out were the Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Rape by Pumla Gqola.
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description?
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
Follow me on Instagram @akuoldemabior