Gatluak Ramdiet was 9 years old when he was separated from his parents. One morning they went out looking for food and never returned.
His family was living in Sudan at a time when violence in the country had turned to genocide. Government forces and militias were bombing and raiding villages, causing thousands of orphaned children to flee the country on foot. Gatluak — who goes by “Gat” for short — was one of those children. He and his brother walked for nearly a week before reaching a refugee camp in western Ethiopia. It was only then that he stopped scanning the skies for bombs overheard.
Today, nearly 20 years later, Gat is studying at the University of Nebraska College of Law and finishing up a summer internship at the United Nations headquarters in New York. I recently spoke with Gat about his incredible journey and why interning at the UN fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams.
Tell me about your childhood. Where were you born?
I was born in what is now South Sudan, but back then it was Sudan. When I was about 9 years old, the civil war that has displaced many Sudanese sent me to a refugee camp in western Ethiopia. I spent six years at the camp, mostly living on what aid agencies provided. I was cared for by the UN and all of the organizations that were operating with the UN.
The first time I ever attended school was because UNICEF was there, providing school materials. Before then, I didn’t know the UN existed. I was seeing UN flags and emblems, staff members that were representing the UN, either helping distribute food or talking to kids or coming in through some sort of medical team. But I really didn’t understand why there was a need for the UN beyond my own experience, that there were other children like me who had fled war in other countries.