As the eldest of 12 children, Aweng Chuol has always been familiar with responsibility. And with the eyes of many young African women on her—especially those from her native South Sudan—she also knows the responsibility of being a role model, not just a top model.
“My work has impacted youth and defined youth culture in a way that I am now considered an inspiration by the young ones,” she tells OkayAfrica. In the modeling world, Chuol is recognized for her eyes—the whites sway between a hue of grey and brown depending on the climate—her gorgeous skin and the distinctive scars on her face. These scars, a product of a rambunctious childhood, also represent a life fully lived even though the model and student is only 20 years old. Indeed, she has come a long way from her early years in the Kenyan refugee camp where she was born after her family fled Sudan; she was later discovered as a model while working as a cashier at a McDonalds in Sydney, Australia.
It was while in her predominantly white high school in Australia that she struggled with recognizing her beauty in a place that didn’t always see it. But it was also during this time that she realized she could be a trailblazer. “When I was in high school, I was one of seven African women in the entire school. And I took it upon myself to break all of the barriers,” she says. Today, that means breaking ground in an industry that can still be fraught with racial redlining and completing her politics and psychology degrees. “I would tell my younger self to believe in herself,” she says.