GESS is pleased to announce the following:

Akuja de Garang, Team Leader of Girls’ Education South Sudan, has been awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire)


Akuja de Garang, GESS Team Leader, speaking at National Girls' Education Day

Akuja de Garang, GESS Team Leader, speaking at National Girls’ Education Day


Girls’ Education South Sudan, (GESS), funded by UK Aid – a programme which has broken ground over the last four years in enrolment, attendance and retention of girls in one of the most adverse of environments – is proud to announce that Her Majesty the Queen has appointed our Team Leader, Akuja de Garang, MBE, in the New Year Honours List, published today

From refugee scholar to team leader of an outstanding UK Aid programme – and more

Akuja began her education at Juba Model School, but was just eight years old when civil war forced her family to flee South Sudan in 1983, settling in Bristol. In 2004, with a degree in African studies and a Master’s in development from the University of London, she came back to Juba with a yearning to help rebuild her community. After her return, Akuja spent several years working for UNICEF on child-protection issues and with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on conflict resolution. She then delivered several consulting contracts for public-sector reform projects—including helping set up the newly independent government’s payroll system—before she became the Team Leader of Girls’ Education South Sudan, which she has led since its start in 2013

Education is a right for all, especially girls, not a privilege for a few”, she often declares. Indeed, Girls’ Education South Sudan has been key in getting enrolment to its highest level ever, 1.318m pupils, in 2016, 43% of them girls, and this delivered despite three years of intense conflict.

As well as her role on GESS, Akuja is passionate about preserving the cultural heritage of South Sudan. She designs fashion inspired by South Sudanese traditional arts and crafts., Her work has featured in Elle Canada and The New York Times, and directs the Festival of Fashion and Arts for Peace.

Expanding girls’ education, and delivering value for UK Aid, in the midst of conflict

South Sudan gained its independence in July 2011, but, since December 2013, has seen a fresh, bloody and continuous conflict, that now affects almost every part of the country.

Despite this, 567,000 girls are in school this year, and Girls’ Education South Sudan’s world-leading system, now in its fourth successful year, has the name of every one of them, giving a unique level of assurance and accountability.

Under Akuja’s leadership, GESS has paid out more than. 300,000 cash transfers to girls and their families to keep girls in school years Primary 5 to Secondary 4, to over 184,000 unique girls, and paid >9000 school capitation grants to the bank accounts of >3500 schools, full accountability for which can be seen on In addition GESS has reached 2 million people with behaviour change messages in support of girls education and laid down a strong foundation for teacher professional development through a pilot imitative reaching over 200 schools

Akuja leads a team of several hundred colleagues and works closely with the South Sudan Ministry of General Education and Instruction – the picture below shows Akuja and George Ali Stephen, their Deputy Director Development Partners, talking on live radio to listeners across South Sudan about the cash transfers and school capitation grants programme.

Girls’ Education South Sudan is exceeding the targets set for it before the conflict, and is a flagship example of good value for money achieved with UK Aid in the most demanding circumstances. It has been praised by the International Development Committee of the House of Commons, and DFID recently set out in evidence to that committee three ways to scale up the programme

An outstanding ambassador for the United Kingdom and South Sudan

John Shotton, Director at BMB Mott MacDonald which is responsible for managing GESS, said: “Akuja is an outstanding ambassador for our company, for Girls’ Education South Sudan, and for the United Kingdom and South Sudan. In a world where many are busy putting up walls, Akuja is building bridges. We are delighted her achievement has been recognised by this prestigious award, and look forward to achieving even more together in Academic Year 2017 and beyond”.

Notes for editors:

The Order of the British Empire

The “Order of the British Empire” is almost a hundred years old: it is awarded to recognise excellence in a wide range of civil fields, by British citizens and others.

The award of Member of Order of the British Empire is awarded for an outstanding achievement or service to the community, that will have had a long-term, significant impact and stand out as an example to others.

Girls’ Education South Sudan

Girls’ Education South Sudan is a collaboration between the Ministry of General Education and Instruction, Government of the Republic of South Sudan, and UK Aid. It is implemented by a consortium led by BMB Mott MacDonald, and including BBC Media Action, Winrock International and Charlie Goldsmith Associates, and NGOs in each State, integrated with country systems at all levels.

It delivers four major components:

  • Community based behavioural change
  • Cash transfers to girls and their families, and school capitation grants, to support access and quality
  • A quality education component involving a holistic approach at school community level.
  • An evidence and research component to inform policy development

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