Karen Kakou to Compete for Miss Africa
Reaching Back to Give
Kakou said. “A lot of students, myself included, came here. We had the intention of studying and then going back home and giving back.
But a lot of students come and they are caught up by the situation back home that affects them here. I have friends whose parents
passed away while they were here. How are they going to do it? You can’t just stop going to school in the middle of your studies. Or
there is a war going on that makes the families loose business. War involves a lot of violence and people lose businesses. We
encounter these kinds of unfortunate situations. That organization really has the potential to be a support to those students who need
financial and emotional support.”
Kakou heard about the Miss Africa USA pageant through a friend and decided it was just the pageant for her. While Kakou’s feminine
side definitely thought it would be cool to compete in a beauty pageant — a woman came out of a store and exclaimed how beautiful
Kakou was as we were taking photos — the pageant was also about community service.
“It is a scholarship pageant,” Kakou said. “They encourage young woman leaders to give back to society. It’s more than the beauty part
of it. There is an intellectual part to it too. They encourage women to be involved in humanitarian work. It’s for people like me who want
to focus their lives on giving back and working with non-profits. I saw this was the platform that I needed to promote my non-profit and
have funding to help students in my situation. My participation in this competition is really to give awareness to what I am trying to do
with AISAF. I feel on that level, I have already won. Just by getting exposure for AISAF, I feel like I have already won.”
While Miss Africa USA is sure to feature many beautiful women like Kakou, like Kakou, it won’t just be about pretty faces.
“These aren’t just simple girls,” Kakou emphasized. “They aren’t just girls who want to be beautiful. There are nurses and doctors in
the competition, girls who actually have something going on for themselves. They can use this platform to put themselves out there so
they can promote what they are doing. It’s a good opportunity to make connections with people for your future doings. I am friends with
Miss Burkina Faso and we plan to work together. She lives in Washington. These are the kind of women who have the ideal that I want
to be surrounded with. I would definitely like to work with them.”
What will Kakou do with her prize money if she wins? After paying for her competition expenses, she will give the rest to her non-profit.
“The finances I would receive would go toward students for whom we put a scholarship application on our website, aisaf.com,” Kakou
said. “Two students have been selected. There is one in Minnesota and another at Madison College. They are struggling currently to go
to school and might drop out, so the funds would go toward sponsoring them.”
While Kakou is struggling herself, she is looking out for her fellow African students. And with her intelligence, charm, commitment, and
oh yeah looks, one gets the feeling that Kakou is going to make it. She already has dreams for the future.
“After I get my degree in industrial engineering, my avocation would be AISAF,” Kakou said. “I would do that aside from my normal job.
But I always dream of working with Engineers without Borders. I would go to Kenya for six months to work with the people. From there,
I am thinking IMF or something like that, which is still in the non-profit field helping impoverished areas in Africa and all over the world.
Initially, I just wanted to go home when I am done studying. But as I move along and discover a lot of things, my dream is to have both
worlds, have a home here and a home back home and I would go back and forth. I’m really open-minded. I wouldn’t mind going back
home if that is where I have to be. And I wouldn’t mind having a home here if the opportunity presents itself. But back home is definitely
home. I will definitely be home, whether I am here or not.”
If Kakou isn’t able to attend UW-Platteville, she will try to enroll on an optional training program until she can secure her enrollment
because she must remain in some educational or training program in order to continue to qualify for her student visa. And going home
right now just isn’t in Kakou’s plans. She isn’t ready to start making her mark on the world. And what a mark that will be.
The 2013 Miss Africa USA is being held June 29th at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland.
By Jonathan Gramling
Karen Kakou is a remarkable woman who has taken her life into her own hands. When
living in the Ivory Coast where she was born, Kakou won national academic
competitions. As a promising student, Kakou knew that Abidjan, Ivory Coast was not the
right environment for her.
“I needed to get out of the country because there were so many uprisings,” Kakou said.
“It was either workers striking because they didn’t get paid or students striking because
they don’t have classrooms to sit in top go to school. That wasn’t the environment that I
saw myself in. I was the laureate in 2007, the best student in the whole country in my
division. I felt I would be exploited in that environment.”
Kakou moved to Accra, Ghana where she began to learn English and then came to
Madison to study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. However, Kakou couldn’t
afford the tuition cost for an international student and transferred to Madison College.
She viewed Madison College as a stepping stone, but she ended staying there to earn
an associate degree.
“With the war in my country in 2011, I lost my sponsorship,” Kakou said. “The
government that had been sponsoring me was no longer in power. I was in trouble. I
decided that before I thought of something else to do, I would keep going to Madison
College. The first year, I wasn’t involved because I thought I wouldn’t be there for a long
time. Then when I realized I would be staying there longer, I became a student
ambassador. You make sure that the college is a community environment. You
welcome people when there are events. You go there to set up and things like that. That
was a good experience for me to be able to work with people and practice English.”
In May, Kakou received her associate degree and hopes to attend UW-Plattevill this fall
to study industrial engineering.
“I will be going to UW-Platteville because they have waivers for international students
and they know my financial situation,” Kakou said. “They are trying to get me a
scholarship. It is a good engineering school and that’s the reason I am going there.
Platteville is small and so, for someone like me who likes to be involved, it is easy.
When it is big, you don’t know whom to go to and reach out to. But it is easier to get
involved in smaller communities.”
Kakou decided to do something for students like her who are sometimes left
academically and economically stranded by events back home. She established a non-
profit to assist these students.
“The name of my non-profit is AISAF, the African International Student Aid Foundation,”