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News 2 > Global Student Prize - Finalists > 2023 Finalists Global Student Prize > Sarah Ongom Apio

Sarah Ongom Apio

Growing up in a formerly war-torn village in Lira district, northern Uganda, Sarah saw firsthand the effects of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment on her family and the surrounding community. Coming from a low-income family, she was pressured to marry at age 13, but she refused and sought support to continue her education. Although financial struggles made tuition costs and textbooks a significant burden, Sarah was determined to succeed and pursued various opportunities (such as part-time jobs and community support) to overcome these obstacles.

Despite these challenges, Sarah graduated with a good bachelor’s degree through hard work and perseverance. She is now pursuing a career that will allow her to give back to her community, and is performing well at the postgraduate diploma level. At the age of 19, she established Youth Leading Our World (YLOW), a community-based organization that provides safe spaces for adolescent girls and teenage mothers in the rural areas of Lira district, northern Uganda. Through YLOW, she collaborates with community leaders and other grassroots organizations to provide entrepreneurial skills training for women in areas like card making, liquid soap making, and reusable sanitary pad making. This way, women are not only able to provide for their families, but they also create job opportunities for others in their communities. It creates a ripple effect that helps break the cycle of poverty and improves the overall economic health of the area.

During Sarah’s time as peer educator of the World Starts With Me club at St. Katherine secondary school, she created Pop Talk – a new way of connecting students to counsellors and therapists. This used anonymized code number identification to protect the privacy of students, so that they could be helped to overcome their challenges without fear of being stigmatized or judged. Pop Talk also promoted mentorship and encouraged students to advocate for and raise awareness of issues affecting them. As part of this program, students learned about conflict resolution, diversity, and inclusion – which promoted greater understanding, reduced school dropout rates due to bullying and discrimination, and increased the retention of girls and underrepresented or marginalized students in school.

With the Global Student Prize funds, Sarah would turn her Pop Talk project into an on-demand SMS-based platform that allows rural communities to report on issues affecting them and receive real-time feedback and assistance. Pop Talk will be a system of support that connects police, qualified human rights advocates, and victims. It also seeks to empower young people by educating them on their rights and how to advocate for themselves. To bridge the digital divide, Sarah also hopes to create a phone leasing company that will provide affordable options for individuals and communities to access mobile technology. By doing so, she can help reduce the inequality gap, improve support for victims of human rights violations, and empower more people to participate in the digital age.

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