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Binghamton Teen Teased for Dark Skin Wins 4H Top Prize

Seventeen-year-old Nosa Akol wants to be the change.

As National 4-H Council has named Nosa the 2015 recipient of the 4-H Youth in Action award, she seems well on her way.

“Through the work that I will do in my life, I want to be known as the person who saw an issue, became the change, and did something about it," says the senior from Binghamton High School in Binghamton, New York.

Nosa, who moved to the U.S. from South Sudan when she was 5, was chosen for the award out of 80 candidates nationwide due to her volunteer efforts. She's worked on and created numerous community-based projects, including one aimed at getting rid of potholes in her city.

Nosa will receive a $10,000 scholarship and will be honored on April 23 at National 4-H Council's sixth annual Legacy Awards in Washington, D.C., but while Nosa look forwards to her bright future, she also remembers where she came from.

“People can be mean," Nosa says about the bullying she overcame while in school. “It started in the 6th grade,” she says, where she was subjected to daily taunting, usually about her dark skin tone.

They called her "burnt toast" Nosa says that although this period in her life was indeed “difficult” it changed the way she viewed the world and the treatment of others.

“That time taught me to be careful with what I say to others," she says, "and to be sensitive to people's feelings."

Nosa did not let her negative experiences sway her from the trajectory of creating the progressive change she wants in the world.

When she entered high school she was interested in a career in Criminal Justice when her then high school counselor, Mr. Korn, along with some of her friends encouraged her to look in to 4-H. She joined “Citizen U” in the 9th grade and was introduced to the youth program.

When Nosa and her colleagues noticed that there was a need in Binghamton to fix the potholes that plagued the city, they came up with the "Great Pothole Solution Project." She and others mapped out potholes and delivered the results to the city’s leaders to help them remedy the problem.

Nosa also led a local nutrition program called “Taste the Rainbow,” where she taught children in elementary school the importance of healthy eating habits.

The teen plans to return to South Sudan this summer for the first time in 12 years, and says her life would’ve been very different if she had never left the nation in northeastern Africa.

“The education in Sudan is different and the war would’ve made my life the complete opposite to what it is now," she says. "Instead of living in fear, I am not afraid, and instead of keeping my head down, my head is up and I am confident”.

Nosa says she is grateful for the support of her mentor Kelly Mabee, a CITZEN U coordinator, and her parents the most as she progresses.

Nosa Akol was part of the New York Institute delegates to the World Food Prize.

Nosa also says Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for the education of women and the youngest person ever to win a Nobel Prize, is one of her biggest inspirations.

“She is also 17 and she fights for girls” she says.

Now a soon to be high school graduate, Nosa has been accepted into numerous schools including, American University, SUNY Brockport, and Cornell University. She says she wants a career in agriculture and to commit her life to international communities and empowering women in developing countries such as South Sudan.

“Instead of just sitting back and waiting for someone to do something, it would be faster and more efficient if I did something," she says, "and that’s what I plan to do.”