Education is number one

By Margie Agoth

I remember the day I met Achati Ojulo Okuot, it was a cold and windy Thursday evening and I was walking home from the bus stop. I was still new to the Gold Coast as it was my first semester of university and living away from home.

I moved to the Gold Coast in 2013 so that I could study at Griffith University. Everything was very new and scary for me, especially because I came from Toowoomba, a small town in South East Queensland with a population of less than 150,000 people.

Achati Ojulo Okuot

Achati Ojulo Okuot

On my way home I walked into ALDI to pick up some groceries, while doing that, this beautiful, small and cheerful African woman walked towards me with a big smile spread across her face. She had such a kind look on her face, she came and introduced herself to me. I couldn’t stop starring at her gold tooth as was talking to me. She said “Hi my daughter, I always see you walking past my house when you get the time come by and visit. We are all one, I am like a mother to you so don’t be afraid to come, I live just on Central street here,” as she pointed in the direction to her house. I thanked her and said I would visit her when I get the time; she made my day just by being so kind and calling me her daughter. From that day on I always knew there was a great story in her that I would some day have to hear.

As time passed by I became more familiar with the new environment, at the same time I also became friends with Israel who I later learned to be Achati’s youngest son. Soon after, it came time to visit Achati and hear her story. I asked her son Israel if he could translate for me while interviewing his mother as she only spoke Anyuak, her mother’s tongue and little English.

Achati Ojulo Okuot was born during the mid-1960’s in the state of Gambela, situated in the South-Western part of Ethiopia, as part of a remote tribe called Anuak. She was born into a family of five children and two parents; she had three brothers and two sisters. She was born and raised in a family that strongly believed in their Christian faith. She said the first thing she did in the morning when she woke up was pray before going to school or continuing with her daily routine.

Achati and Margie

Achati and Margie

Achati completed up to year twelve level of education in her home country however it was not an easy journey for her. She started grade one at the age of twelve, she was among the first three girls from Gambela to ever attend school. She tells me back then school was available for free for all the children, money was never a problem. Her parents both loved the idea if their daughter going to school and getting an education but not everybody thought the same. After completing grade one, Achati was removed from school and was made to stay home and marry, her community did not believe in girl’s education. The problem was not the lack of money but the people’s mentality and cultural beliefs. At her age Achati did not understand why she was not allowed to study while the boys were, she thought it was unfair. Achati said when she was taken out of school she would cry every day, especially when she hears the school bell ring from home. She said, “When I see the Ethopian flag being put up at school I would cry and cry all day”. She felt as if a big part of her was being taken away and it was just not fair.

Achati was married to the most amazing man as she described him. She says that, “He was very nice, loving and understanding, and he would help me and teach me at home”. Her husband was an orphan raised by the missionary people from Mission America. Due to his upbringing in the orphanage he was more understanding and became a man of God, a pastor. At the age of thirteen she was married to her now late husband and as young as she was, Achati quickly had to learn to become a mother and wife. However, Achati still calls herself blessed to have married a man who loved and understood the importance of education regardless of sex. After having her first child she continued studying at home, her husband became her teacher. He taught her the alphabet from Book One which was a textbook from Sudan. She would study at night, as she was now a mother she had house duties to take care of during the day.

In the 1970’s Achati’s husband was sent to the capital city, Addis Ababa, to study Theology at the Addis Ababa University. As a result the whole family also moved to the city so they could all be together. It was in Addis Ababa Achati says, that she fell in love with education again. Because there she wasn’t as embarrassed to be an adult learning amongst children younger than her. She became encouraged to get more educated as she saw Ethiopian woman in the city driving cars and working in offices, she knew that she could one day become like those women. She started studying from grade two to nine; living in the city really helped her see the beauty of education. However, soon after it came time for her and her family to go back to the village of Gambela once again. At this time Achati had to stop studying again.

Although with the amount of education she had gained thus far, Achati was able to get a good job working as the head of the Woman’s Affairs Association in Gambela after finishing grade nine. She worked and continued to study with the help and support of her loving husband until she graduated from grade 12. Achati’s daughter, the first born of the family also graduated from university at the same time that her mother graduated from high school. Achati and her husband supported and encouraged all their children to get an education; her daughter graduated from a degree of Theology like her father and is currently a doctor in the United States.

Currently Achati lives on the Gold Coast in Australia, she has not given up on her education yet. When she arrived in Australia she studied English at TAFE and has finished her certificate one, two and three in social work. Her next goal is to get her degree or diploma in Human Services. Achati’s message is to all the women and most importantly to the African woman, that they must continue to strive for their education, as it is the only solution to seeing the world clearer.

This woman has inspired me, not only as an African but also as a woman, to never give up especially when it comes to education. Achati’s story has truly touched me and I am sure it will most defiantly touch many other women. In Achati’s words “Education is number one in the world”, always remember that.