Alek Wek’s Story, Model and Designer


Photo by UNHCR/C. Tooze/2013.

When Alek Wek was five, civil war broke out. “Suddenly, neighbours were disappearing mysteriously. You’d go fetch water and see dead bodies along the way. It was chaotic and terrifying.” Her family began a long walk deep into the bush to seek safety. “We were squatting in huts that others had evacuated, just to avoid harm from snakes.”

Every day the sound of an aid flight would prompt Alek and other children to run to their temporary homes, hurriedly pack their belongings, and then go to the plane to beg the armed officials for a seat. The Weks were eventually able to leave for Khartoum because her mother had managed to take a quantity of salt with her, which she sold to people in the bush. She was 12 when she finally made it to the capital.

Then Wek arrived in London two years later. She attended school, though she spoke only Arabic and Dinka. “It was really, really hard. But after going through everything, where nothing was ever sure, where I might get killed, I was free and so happy to be learning. I focused on that and threw myself into it. I could never understand why other kids wanted to truant – my education here gave me everything. It’s the place where I really got to flourish.”

(The Guardian Weekend/29 March 2014.)


Watch Alek Wek’s story on CNN – African Voices:


1 family torn apart by war is too many

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