Over a year ago, I was introduced to model, Nyakim Gatwech. Together, we discussed her love for helping others and how the struggles she’d been through in life has gotten her where she is today in her career and life in general. Today, it is obvious Gatwech has progressed and it all started with her big move to the Big Apple. Nyakim has over 430K followers on Instagram but before becoming a social media sensation, there were challenges. In this exclusive interview with Nyakim, she opened up to me about childhood in a refugee camp, her move to the United States, and how she plans on continuing to be an inspiration to others.

We spoke to you last year for our January/February 2018 issue. What has changed over the course of the year for you?

Quite a bit has changed. I moved to New York, I was living in Minnesota. I’ve worked and met with some amazing people. I attended the Emmys, which was an amazing experience. I also began working on my non-profit organization. I’ve been continuing to inspire people and pursuing my dreams. There is a lot going on and a couple of projects I’m working on at the moment that will hopefully go through in 2019. The big move to New York has had its up and downs but it has been great.

Tell us about your journey and transition from a refugee camp to now.

Oh my gosh! That journey was crazy and rough. There were many challenges, especially for my mother. I was a child in the refugee camp with a single mother who had six children. While in the refugee camp, she lost two of her children to malaria, snake bites, and just drinking unhealthy water. Life in the refugee camp was not easy. We struggled with our safety and unclean water. I can’t even stress enough education as well. The transition took so long. My sister came to this country in 1999 and that was when she began the process to bring us to America. We didn’t get approval until 2007.

When we came to America, I was so excited to experience everything we’d heard about, education, clean water, health, everything. I knew I wanted to become a model and teacher. When we got here, I was 14, obviously, it wasn’t rainbows and everything I thought it would be. It was beautiful but it had its ups and downs. The transition wasn’t smooth because there was a language barrier so it was difficult for me to communicate with my peers. I guess it seemed like something was wrong with me by my peers. My classmates and neighbors looked at me like my family was disgusting. I wasn’t facing the same challenges I faced in the refugee camp, I was facing people breaking down my self-esteem and constantly reminding me that I don’t fit or belong here.

I had to look at the bigger picture and tell myself that I’m here to make sure that I have a better life for my future. Although I didn’t feel good about myself, I had to push through to be okay with who I am.

The problems were different. The issues at the refugee camp were more difficult because of safety but also when people tear down your self-esteem, its hard. I was excited to be in America but it all went down the drain when I started school because I couldn’t communicate with my classmates or teachers because I didn’t know the language.

Do you believe you have been judged more in the United States than for the color of your skin than back in your home country?

Yes! I was born in Ethiopia; my background is from the country of South Sudan. The people of Ethiopia have light skin. I lived there with them and being as dark as I am, I was never looked in another way. When we moved to Kenya, it was the same. I knew that there are so many different people. Coming here, I was judged by mostly African Americans! I was confused! What’s wrong with me? We’re the same people. I have been judged here in America more than anywhere else.

Image credit: Joey Rosado | Instagram

Tell us, how do you believe your experiences can help children and women around the world?

I believe that my experiences can help people because I’ve worked through those challenges. I’ve surrounded myself around positive people. I built a community around me that truly accept me. I remind myself every day that I am beautiful. It starts with you. You can’t expect someone else to build yourself love or self-acceptance. At some point, I was torn down and depressed. I wanted to hurt myself and even bleach my skin. Those were the thoughts that went through my mind. I snapped out of it! I finally woke up and decided that I was going to work on myself. Start the conversation with yourself in the mirror and then expand to the people in your community.

Not everyone is going to be okay with whom you are or accept you but as long as you’re true to yourself, you’ll be fine! It took me a long time to get to that point.

What can we expect to see from Nyakim Gatwech in the future?

You can expect to see me continuing spreading self-love and the good word. I want to keep inspiring others. I have projects coming up including my non-profit organization to give back to my people back home. I want to go back to the refugee camp I was in back home and give back. I want to continue to do what I love because that is what made me who I am.

Image credit: Annabelle Cosmetics | Instagram

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Featured Image: Shanelle B | Instagram | Nyakim Gatwech Management Team