I was born to a pastoralist Dinka family in South Sudan, and grew up herding cows along the Nile River all year round. As a typical Dinka boy growing up in that part of the world, my life would have continued along that path. However, once the civil war started, the entire country was torn apart and my life changed forever. I ended up being separated from my family by the war, and spent most of my young age in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Fortunately, I attended refugee primary and Kenyan Government secondary schools where I got a free twelve-year education under the care of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was at the refugee camps that I learned a select number of people have chosen to dedicate their careers to making a difference in the lives of millions of refugees around the world. Like these people, it was my dream to make a career working for international organizations or as a diplomat promoting peace and international security around the world. Nevertheless, it was a wild dream to even contemplate at that dusty refugee camp in Northwestern Kenya.
Luckily enough, I was given an opportunity by the United States Government to resettle in the state of Vermont, in order to have a second chance at building my future all over again after wasting almost 13 years of my life in the refugee camps. It was through this program, ten years ago, that I ended up in Vermont, as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who resettled in different states around the U.S. Through the help of American friends, I managed to attend college and graduate school at the University of Vermont, where I got a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science and a master’s degree in business administration; five years apart because I had to work fulltime for the University of Vermont as one of assistant directors of admissions, mentoring and recruiting minority students from the predominantly black high schools in The Bronx in New York City and New Jersey.
As a former nomadic pastoralist, a civil war survivor, an unaccompanied minor, a lost boy, a meat packer, an untrained teacher, a community and peer leader, a Kenyan high school graduate, and American undergraduate and graduate educated professional, I look forward to enriching classroom discussions at Harvard Kennedy School. After Kennedy School, I hope to move to back to South Sudan to help commence the rebuilding of the nascent state after the ravages of the civil war.
Daniel Akol Aguek is a MPA ’14 student at Harvard Kennedy School.