Peter Ter

Above: Peter Ter.

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Peter Ter

Head of the CLAS

Peter Ter, a political science major, springs to his feet in the living room of his cozy University Heights apartment and goes straight to his large bookshelf.

For Ter, books are one of life’s most valuable objects. “All of my friends joke with me,” he said, thumbing through a book for one of his favorite photographs.

“They say that I will want to be buried with my books.” Ter’s passing reference to death harkens back to an earlier part of the conversation. Just moments before, Ter had reflected on the origins of his long journey to the United States and how he became a student at the University of Florida. “If it hadn’t been for the support of the United Nations,” Ter said. “I would be dead.”

One of Sudan’s lost boys, Ter was removed from his home by the bloody civil war that has raged in Sudan for the last 20 years and which continues to this day in Darfur. He recalls the day that he was separated from his parents. Playing with friends, he looked up to see planes flying above the village where he lived. The next thing he remembers is the bombs dropping through the sky, destroying the life he knew. “I ran with a group of people away from the village,” Ter said. “Because I was young, someone held my hand.”

After a torturous barefoot trek, Ter ended up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia for three years. Forced again to move due to civil war, Ter returned with other refugees to the jungles of southern Sudan. It was not long before the government of Sudan began bombing the refugees, causing them to flee their own country once more. Ter lived in another refugee camp from 1992 to 2001, this time in northern Kenya. The conditions that characterized life in the camps were abysmal. Disease, malnutrition and death were constants.

Despite surviving on one small meal a day, Ter is thankful for one part of life in the refugee camps. Practicing his writing in the dirt, Ter began to learn English. From there, his passion for education was born. Ter was one of the lucky ones: two of his brothers were forced to become child soldiers. Lured from the camp by false promises of escape to the U.S., Peter’s brothers were handed AK-47s and told to fight for their homeland. At the time, Peter was not yet eight years old—too young to join the Sudanese army.

Today, the 22-year-old Ter speaks eloquently about world and American history, as well as discussing the politics of his homeland; in the future, he hopes to work as a diplomat. “Because of all the things I saw in Africa—war, killing, starvation, disease and a lot of injustice—when I came to the U.S., I became very interested in politics. I also started reading a lot of history.”

The fruits of the liberal arts education that Peter has received at UF are evident in the ease with which he moves between subjects—one minute he is explaining the enforcement of Shariah law in Sudan, the next he is considering the difficulty of shaping effective U.S. foreign policy. However, Ter’s own history is never far from his mind. “A piece of paper and a pen can change someone’s life,” he said. “I remember when UNICEF brought books in to the camp...I was elated.”

Credits

Writer

Christopher Garland

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