Alek Wek Talks South Sudanese Conflict And Her Journey From Refugee To Supermodel

07/11/2014 04:17 pm ET | Updated Jul 11, 2014

South Sudan is a dangerous place, especially for children today.

When South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek visited HuffPost Live, she talked about her very long and hard transition from refugee to a world-famous model, and the challenge of acclimating to her new environment.

"Psychologically it was really difficult."

When asked if she was ever disgusted by the "grotesque" excess of the modeling industry and first-world society, Wek said she was simply grateful to have the opportunity to live and work in a safe environment.

"For me it was just that I had a chance in life, I had a safe place. And it took some time -- I remember after five, six, seven years after living in London and traveling -- I'd wake up in the middle of the night if the television was on, freaking out thinking that there were militias breaking in or something."

Having fled her home country after her family decided they were no longer safe, Wek's heart goes out to the children still suffering in South Sudan.

"I just can't imagine, I can't comprehend what a lot of young people are going through at the moment -- not even having a chance when there is something that can be done about it [the danger]."

Wek is not the only South Sudanese celebrity to speak out about the crisis in the newly independent nation, NBA star Luol Deng is also an active proponent of increasing aid to the area.

The now long-time fashion icon summarized her perspective from living in and traveling to so many places around the world.

"Family is family, worldwide. Values are values, morals are morals."

  • Alia holds her daughter Nyadoth outside their temporary home in Akobo, South Sudan
    Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children
  • “I left Malakal because of the fighting, we were chased from there - they wanted to kill us. We walked here and the children were really suffering because we had nothing to eat on the way. Now we’re here, there still nothing to eat but leaves and my daughter is sick and malnourished. "Since the conflict started, life has become very difficult and we’re suffering every day. I would like to go home to Malakal where our lives were easier if there is peace, but I don't know what can stop this fighting. "It is good that South Sudan got its independence and we have our freedom, but it has not put an end to these wars. That is what I need for my children to have a better life, is an end to conflict.”
  • Tahani, a displaced mother from Malakal and her son Chuol outside their temporary home in Akobo, South Sudan
    Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children
  • “It is good that we separated ourselves from Sudan because back when we were one country, we didn't have freedom. Now we are happy that we're with our own people, looking after our own affairs. "I wouldn't say I'm disappointed by the conflict which has broken out now, because I believe everything is in God's hands. But our lives were already hard, and this war has made everything more difficult. "I walked for ten days with my three children and mother to get here to Akobo, after the fighting broke out in Malakal and my husband got sick and died. My two daughters used to go to school, but now they have to go out to the forest with me to get leaves and berries for us to eat, or firewood for us to sell. [The leaves} are not enough and they’re getting sick from eating them all the time. "I hope there will be peace so that our situation can improve and we can go back to our home. But you know, there is always war here in South Sudan."
  • Grace, 24 and her daughter Nyabol in Malou Bor
    Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children
  • “This war has affected children in many ways. Some children have lost their parents; all of the houses have been burnt down and all of the food in the stocks has been looted or burnt. "During Independence, I thought we would be very happy because we had our freedom. When we were getting Independence and I gave birth to Nyabol I had hope. I said to myself when I gave birth ‘I won’t have to carry this child and flee the way we had to flee. This child will stay without any problems and when it grows big it will go to school’. "What I felt at the time of the war? I felt like it was taking us to zero level, we had to start again. Now I’m praying to God for peace Then our brothers who have run to other countries like Kenya and Uganda will be able to come back and build our country again, because at the moment it is completely destroyed. "My message to the world is South Sudan is one country and these are the same people who are killing themselves. They’re the ones that are looking for power. I hope the world can help bring peace and reconciliation to South Sudan so all of the South Sudanese people can be reconciled.”
  • Monica, 32, and her son Dhak in Malou, Bor
    Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children
  • “I was 16 years old when I got married. I did not go to school because there was no education when I was young. "My three eldest children now go to school. Their education has been interrupted because sometimes we don’t have the money to pay the school fees, and also because of insecurity. "We are always scared because when South Sudan got independence, it did not become a peaceful country. The armed groups stopped that – they were abducting children and killing people and now the fighting has started again so we don’t enjoy a peaceful country. "I hope South Sudan will be peaceful in the future with no fighting. I don’t feel good now because people are killing each other, they are killing themselves since they are the same people from the same country. We’re still running like we have been for 21 years.”
  • Mary, 23 and her son William, living at the UNMISS compound in Bor, South Sudan
    Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children
  • "My youngest son was one week old when the conflict started. I carried him wrapped tightly in a towel. I felt that if I would fall down I would drop him because we were running. "My husband left us here in the UNMISS camp and went to fight. [In April], attackers came around all sides of the camp. With the first shot they fired my child [William] was shot. I thought he was dead so I put him down and picked up my other child and ran. "William was found by an organisation who took him to Juba. After three or four days they brought a photo of him. I had lost hope he was alive, but when I saw the photo and I was shocked and happy to realise he was still alive. "I’d tell people outside of South Sudan – we’re dying here, there is a lot of sickness. We are scared of how long we will be here [in the camp]. All of us will die here. "We feel the children are not getting everything they need. William has problems – he does not eat. I want the international community to stop the war so we can live in peace and everyone can help themselves. "
  • David, 25, who works as a registrar in a nutrition clinic, with his son Paul
    Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children
  • “I grew up here in Akobo until I was 16, when I went to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to get an education and to escape the conflict. There was a lot of bombing in this area, even our church was bombed in 1999 and 2001. "When South Sudan became independent, I was really happy. I feel proud to be South Sudanese. We are black in colour and our culture is strong, and so is our faith. Under Sudan we were forced to be something we are not, but now we are independent everyone in the country should be free to choose their religion, culture, whatever they want. "For my son’s future, I really want him to study. But this conflict has made it difficult for him to begin his education. In truth, I’m very disappointed by the conflict. I feel like if this war goes on, my son won’t have the life I want him to.”

CONVERSATIONS