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Alumnus Visits Campus to Talk with Students About His Life as a Refugee

Gatluk Digiew
Gatluk Digiew signing his books at Keene State. Photo courtesy Brian Green

Keene State College prepared Gatluk Digiew ’09 ’12 for careers in two fields – and for something else that he never would have predicted. “If you had asked me what I would be doing after I left Keene State, I would have told you many things, like getting a job and making money,” he said. “Becoming an author wouldn’t be one of them.”

Gatluk did, indeed, become an author. He was back on campus this spring to talk about his new book, God Threw Me Back: A Child Survives War in Sudan, a memoir of his life growing up in wore-torn South Sudan and then in refugee camps.

A member of the Nuer tribe, Gatluk was taken from his family at 9 and forced to serve as a child soldier. At 13, he was shot and badly wounded, spending more than a year in hospitals and eventually landing in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

He and two brothers were granted political asylum and resettled in Manchester, New Hampshire, when he was 17, having never been to school and not speaking English. After high school, he earned an associate’s degree at NHTI-Concord’s Community College, and then enrolled at Keene State, where he earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in sociology and one in safety and occupational health applied sciences.

He worked in safety in the oil industry and is currently working as a court interpreter in Minnesota while he shares his life story. Telling that story is what prompted him write. As he notes in the introduction to God Threw Me Back, “For sixteen years, I have kept silent. I have tried to bury these memories – being conscripted as a boy soldier, war atrocities, survival tactics, life on the edge in refugee camps – to erase them from my mind, but I cannot. I thought that as long as I did not talk about that night and other horrors, everything would just vanish.

“I know now there is no way to escape my past. Walking with a limp reminds me every day of my life where I am from and why I am here. Many refugees fear reprisals even decades after being resettled in a new country. I do not. It is time to share my story about my limp. It is time to speak for South Sudanese war victims, especially children, who are silent.”

His time at Keene State prepared him not just to write – though he had plenty of chances to refine his skills at that – but also to think and understand. Sociology led him to understand human behavior, he says, “and why we do the things we do,” while safety required problem solving skills. “That’s what education in college is all about,” he said, “to prepare us and go out in the real world and use it.”

Sociology Professor Brian Green brought Gatluk to campus, with sponsorship by the Sociology Department, the School of Arts, Education, and Humanities, and the Diversity and Multiculturalism Office. He spoke with students in six classes and was featured in the Keene Sentinel.

Learn more about Gatluk Digiew’s book here.

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