Mary Maker is a South Sudanese refugee activist who inspires audience to value education and change their world. Through the craft of theatrical storytelling, Mary Maker shares her refugee journey to create a ripple effect of impact to develop a world of globally educated individuals that are empathetic and community driven
- Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
- First-Generation College Student
- Motivation & Inspiration
- Women’s Empowerment
Through the craft of storytelling, Mary Maker creates a ripple effect with the hope to develop a world of globally educated individuals.
Getting to know
South Sudanese refugee Mary Maker is a refugee education activist working with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an actor, a fashion lover, and a writer. After fleeing her war-torn country as a child, she found security and hope in attending school in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. She has since become a teacher of young refugees in her community and sees education as an essential tool for rebuilding lives and empowering a generation of girls who are too often denied entrance into the classroom. Mary is currently pursuing Theater as part of the MasterCard Foundation scholarship program at St. Olaf College Minnesota.
Mary has said: “For the child of war, an education can turn their tears of loss into a passion for peace”.
In 2018, Mary gave an impassioned speech at TEDxKakumaCamp entitled ‘Why I Fight for the Education of Refugee Girls (like me)’. In collaboration with the UNHCR, she has advocated on behalf of refugees on multiple global platforms, including Sky News and ABC News. Mary has spoken at international events, including Global GoalsCast, and the Girl Up Summit, and supported the launch of UNHCR’s annual Education Report. This year, Mary wrote the educational report alongside Lewis Hamilton. She has been featured in social media films and briefings outlining the importance of education. By highlighting her own personal story, she points out the resilience, talents, and ambitions of the forcibly displaced. She is playing an active role in response to the global refugee crisis and the global coronavirus pandemic.
In 2021- Mary Started a non-profit, Elimisha Kakuma, a Swahili word for Educate Kakuma. Within one year, Mary and her team have been able to partner with Virginia Tech, UNHCR, and Duolingo, from where Elimisha was awarded Best of Student Advocacy. In 2023, she was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR.
In her spare time, Mary enjoys creating new plays, devising new stories, and researching ancient stories on the African continent.
To help you promote your event with Mary, CAMPUSPEAK has created promotional templates you can use. In this folder, you will find resources for social media, a promotional poster for printing, and press photos you can use for your event.
Link to Promotional Materials.
Mary was a vibrant, poignant addition to our summit and truly set the tone for a wonderful convening.
— Matthew Butensky
Project Manager, Center for Schools and Communities
A Journey Less Taken
Mary Maker’s journey has taken many paths, from South Sudan to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya to work towards getting an education in the United States. Through powerful stories, Mary shares the challenges of integrating into her new world as her mother and her move from one country to another, learning new languages, the uncertainty of finding a home, and coming to terms with the new title, “the refugee.”
Throughout Mary’s journey, she learned the importance of education. Mary started a school to teach other women at her camp in hopes it would give her and others the persistence to succeed.
As a result of attending the program, students will learn:
- the art of resilient and perseverance in education,
- how to give back to communities- the importance and fulfillment that comes with it, and
- how to lead.
To Be Woman
Mary Maker’s mother found herself forced into marriage at the age of 13 in 1992. Working through the realities of the community she was born into, Mary struggled to set a new tone for herself and the generations to come. With her mother condemned and shunned by the community, Mary learned to develop her voice, which her mother taught her yet couldn’t do.
After watching her mother try to please a community that does not see her as a woman enough unless she gives birth to a girl, Mary decided to start defying the community by teaching girls to set new expectations in the community. From teaching sex ed in the refugee camp, a taboo in her community, Mary ventures into theater, music, and dance, a profession is seen to be problematic. In this program, Mary will also talk about the challenges she faced growing up being a girl and the intersectionality of being a refugee, South Sudanese, and a woman. She started to redefine womanhood for herself and how she lives by her norms.
As a result of attending the program, students will learn:
- how to stay grounded,
- how to set new expectations with self and being true to oneself,
- how to shift away from norms, and
- how to find one’s voice
Mary has been moving her whole life. The feeling of being new has shaped her life. Learning an art of adjustment became a core part of her life. As a child Mary had to learn the art of diplomacy, how to scan her environment, and know how she can succeed within that environment. In this program Mary will cut across different stories from which she had to readjust. Coming to the refugee camp, going to boarding school, and studying in Uganda, Rwanda, where the language was completely new. Being a theater lover yet never having taken a theater class before. How she had to learn American theater, finding new family among loss of her own and the journeys she had to take to readjust.
As a result of attending this program, students will learn:
- how to seek help in new environments,
- the art of diplomacy, and
- how to modify oneself in new environments.