Angelo Maker Intent on Life of Purpose by Helping Others

Education changed the game for Angelo Maker. Overcoming trials that might have broken some people, he is determined to make a difference by opening doors for others.  

Maker graduated from Virginia Peninsula Community College in 2005. Today he’s the executive director of the Abukloi Foundation, an international nonprofit organization set on creating and supporting schools in his native South Sudan.

His path from being one of the Lost Boys of Sudan to becoming a source of hope for many shows the power of education.

“Having an education, nobody can take that away from you. You can lose everything – a house, money, a car. You will never lose your knowledge. You can use it to better yourself and make a difference in others' lives,” he said.

“I was given an opportunity to come here and get what I have. What can I do to give back? What can I do to make a difference in the lives of others?”

Maker's life was upended in the 1980s when his family was killed during the Sudanese civil war. As one of many orphaned children, he fled to Ethiopia and then Kenya, settling in a United Nations refugee camp. The U.S. State Department worked with a council of churches to find sponsors to relocate the Lost Boys to America. Maker’s fresh start came when Wellspring United Methodist Church in Williamsburg chose him.

He arrived in the United States in February 2001 at age 21.

“I didn't know anything about the United States, Virginia, Williamsburg, or the church,” Maker recalled. “It was all chosen for me, and I am grateful for that chance.”

Adapting was challenging but he knew he wanted a college education. Maker had to learn English and earn a GED before enrolling in college. He learned about VPCC while reading a newspaper. So, VPCC was his target.

“I spent five days a week preparing,” Maker explained. “I did ESL three days a week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – and my GED classes in the evenings two days a week at Warwick High School.”

He earned a GED and enrolled at VPCC in 2002 all while working “two and three” jobs to support himself and afford school. Maker majored in business administration looking to figure out how to make a difference.

“When I came here, I was looking into what impact I could make,” he said. “I wanted to learn how to run a business, whether for profit or nonprofit. I knew I needed a background in finance and accounting.”

He didn't stop at VPCC. Maker transferred to Old Dominion University, earning a bachelor's degree in international studies and political science and then a master's degree in organizational leadership from Regent University. His education led to a fulfilling career at Newport News Shipbuilding, where he works in production planning and scheduling.

Still, a calling to give back to his homeland took hold, especially after his visits there in 2006 and 2009. He recalled visiting a school and seeing firsthand that kids were yearning for education.

“There are 328 primary schools. Over there, they have first grade through eighth. They call that primary school and ninth through 12th is called secondary school. During that time there were only three high schools,” he explained.

“Imagine students are graduating from those schools and coming to only three high schools. The average at that time was 127 students per class with no air conditioning,” Maker added. “Children were still standing at the window asking for an opportunity.”

He was heartsick returning to America in 2009 but was determined he was going to help.

“On my way back from South Sudan to America, I couldn’t sleep. I told myself, ‘If I try something and fail, at least I gave it a try. If I don’t try anything, I will live guilty in my life,’” he said. “I am here because other people have given support to me. Why can't I do the same for others?"

Maker and a group of dedicated individuals from his sponsor church established the Abukloi Foundation in 2010. He said Abukloi means “We can do it” in his native language, Dinka. Providing opportunities for young people to get an education will have a lasting effect in a country where he said educational resources are scarce and 70% of the population is aged 30 and under.

“South Sudan is the newest country on the planet, and it will start on the right foot by making education a priority. If everyone would do their part to make education a priority, we can change that country for the better,” he said.

The foundation's impact has been profound. Starting with just $10,000 and 70 students “under a tree,” Abukloi now boasts a school with 667 students and has graduated roughly 1,000 individuals. Some alumni, he noted, have completed college, going on to become lawyers, medical professionals, and entered other professions that benefit their society.

Seeing the foundation’s potential, Maker has taken a year off work to focus on his executive director role, raise awareness and seek supporters. He said the short-term goal is to sustain. Long-term goals include establishing an academy capable of serving up to 3,000 students, recruiting different ethnic groups and opening a boarding school, especially for girls as gender equity is vital.

He wants to bring on more volunteers and gain the footing to hire qualified staff to carry out the foundation’s mission. Maker's vision goes beyond South Sudan. He also hopes the Abukloi Foundation based in Chester, Va. can one day support immigrants in the United States, helping them navigate their new lives and achieve their potential.

Outside of his professional and foundation work, the Newport News resident enjoys spending time with his family and participating in church. He met his wife, Stephanie, at VPCC. The couple has a daughter (16) and two sons (11 and 9). He prioritizes family time, helping with homework and enjoying outdoor activities.

The importance of education extends to his family. Maker encouraged his wife to further her college education after their VPCC studies. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and is an engineering analyst at Newport News Shipbuilding.

“She is the first person in her family to go to college, the first person to have a house. That is why education is everything,” he exclaimed.  

Maker lends time to civic involvement, too. He is active with the Peninsula Network and frequently speaks at schools and universities. His message is clear: "If I can do it, you don’t have an excuse."

Reflecting on his time at VPCC, Maker is eager to return to campus and repay in kind. He welcomes the opportunity to visit and share his story with students and the VPCC community.

Maker understands the saying, “To whom much is given, much is required.” He remains committed to a life of purpose, inspiring and uplifting others