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How a High School Scholarship Transformed the Life of a Sudanese Refugee

Written by Kate Schmidgall • 4 min read

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
— Chinese proverb

For Ace Scholar Dau Doldol, “Some steps are more important than others.” Education was key, and ACE Scholarships made it possible.

In a powerful personal testimony at the annual ACE Scholarship luncheon, Dau details his journey to the United States. Born in northeast Africa in what is now South Sudan, Dau grew up in the midst of turmoil, violence, and unrest. The oldest of five children, Dau remembers walking over 100 miles to a United Nations refugee camp in northern Kenya to escape the Second Sudanese Civil War. He was only four years old. Over the course of six years, Dau and his family lived with 200,000 other displaced persons in the camp. Dau describes the day his family’s application for asylum in the United States was approved as “a dream come true.” At the age of 10, Dau started a new life in Denver.

Dau’s family didn’t know English and had no formal education. The transition to the United States was difficult. Dau worked hard to learn the new language but stayed behind his classmates, struggling academically and socially. When it came time for high school, his mother started looking for alternatives to public school, knowing that Dau needed a smaller, more supportive environment to succeed. Arrupe Jesuit High School was a great fit, but the cost of a private school education was far outside their reach.

With the help of an ACE scholarship and a work-study program, Dau enrolled at Arrupe and changed the course of his life forever. He began playing sports and got involved in clubs, gaining self-confidence. Teachers and staff gave him the attention and instruction he needed to reach grade level. With the support of family and teachers, Dau became the first in his family to graduate high school. And, that was only the beginning.

With a full, four–year scholarship to any school, Dau was able to enroll at American University in Washington, DC, where he is currently pursuing a degree in international relations. Dau is now the first in his family to attend college and recently became an American citizen.

Sometimes I cannot believe it. … A 10-year-old boy living in a Kenyan refugee camp struggling to learn basic lessons one day receiving a full-ride scholarship to attend an elite university in Washington, DC, the capital of the land of opportunity. That is the power of education. That is the power of ACE.

Dau hopes to one day serve as a diplomat or work for an international relief organization like those that helped him and his family survive.

The Most Powerful Weapon to Change the World

As Nelson Mandela stated,

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

That is why ACE Scholarships works to connect low-income families with outstanding educational opportunities. Advocating for school choice, ACE provides scholarships to private schools for children in grades K–12, with a vision that every child will have equal access to education.

Since it was founded in Denver in 2000, ACE has issued more than 19,000 scholarships, gifted more than $36 million in scholarship commitments, and established partnerships with 260 private schools in four states. They are currently in Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, and Kansas, and are poised to expand in Wyoming and nationwide.

With 16 years of proven results and successful expansion into three new states, the ACE model works. ACE serves families that make less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, and 100 percent of scholarship recipients are low-income. While ACE provides partial scholarships to cover the cost of private school tuition, schools and families cover the remaining costs. Schools recognize the increased value of a child paying partial tuition compared to an empty seat, so partner schools invest in ACE scholars. Families also contribute toward tuition — a formula with proven success in increasing parental involvement in a child’s achievement.

Their unique formula has resulted in a 90 percent low-income high school graduation rate, compared to the 65 percent and 77 percent in Colorado and Montana, respectively. ACE students aren’t just graduating high school. Seventy-one percent of Scholars are directly enrolling in college compared to 41 percent of their peers.

ACE Scholarships is extending life-changing opportunities to students and families, proving that access to quality education can change the trajectory of a life and the landscape of the country. Stand Together Foundation is excited to partner with ACE to expand their impact into new states across the country.

Dau is only one of thousands of students who have been empowered by education through ACE. At the ACE annual luncheon, Dau outlines the critical steps in his life that brought him to where he is today, and a scholarship from ACE was one of them.

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Written by Kate Schmidgall

Editor in Chief at Bittersweet Monthly, Washington, DC

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