(CNN) Alek Wek is a model, designer and a goodwill ambassador for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
I was 14 when I became a refugee.
As civil war tore through my village, I lost friends and neighbors. I could no longer go to school. And eventually, I couldn’t even leave the house.
When the danger became too great my family and I had to flee — leaving behind our home, almost all of our possessions and our entire way of life.
Never again would I roam the village with my schoolmates after lessons, snacking on mangoes, wandering out to check on my mother’s cows or running up the big hill nearby to gaze at the airplanes passing overhead.
Never again would my mother’s main worry in life be whether or not I would be back in time for supper. Never again would my family, all 11 of us, be together under one roof. That period of my life is scarred by deep, life-changing loss.
In the face of this upheaval, I held fast to something my father had told me. “You can lose almost everything,” he said, “but you can never lose your education.”
If, as a refugee, education was the one thing that could not be taken away from me, then I was going to immerse myself in learning. And that is exactly what I did.
The moment came when my mother saw the chance to send me and one of my sisters to London. I had mixed feelings about this — I was devastated to be separated from her, but I was relieved to finally reach safety. I had endured a great deal, I was still having nightmares and sudden noises terrified me — even the slamming of a door.