The story of one refugee who has dedicated himself to a life of service.

Peter Ter doesn't know how old he is. That is the first surprising thing he'll share about his remarkable life, and it's only the beginning.

Peter was born into a family of cattle farmers in Sudan. He grew up during a decades-long conflict that is one of the longest civil war​s on record. When he was young, he was separated from his parents and sent to live in a refugee camp in Kenya.

When representatives from the United States government met Peter in the refugee camp in 2001, they measured his height and stature to guess his age and year of birth. The year they selected was 1980, making him 36 years old. Even then, it’s only a guess.


Peter Ter, center, teaching Azerbaijani students how to throw an American football. All images from Peter Ter, used with permission.

As a child, to keep up his spirits, Peter focused on a singular goal: learning to read and write in English.

“I was born in a place where there were no pens or pencils,” he says. “I wanted to be somebody and I knew learning English would help me get there. I didn’t want the past to hold me back.”

Peter’s refugee camp was massive, and the school supplies that could help him practice English were next to impossible to come by. So, he improvised.

Day after day, he would practice writing the alphabet — and later, words and phrases — by writing them over and over in the sand.

“One day, one of the elders in the camp came by and watched me writing in the sand. He said ‘The sun is very hot, and you are working hard. One day the world will be like a soccer ball in your hands,’” recalls Peter. The old man then gave him a blue pen — his first. Using pieces of old cardboard he found in waste bins at the nearby UN compound, Peter practiced writing with the pen until it ran out of ink. When it did, he burned sticks to create charcoal so he could keep writing and learning.

In 2001, Peter immigrated to the United States.

He immediately began to pursue his education, earning a degree in political science from the University of Florida. After graduation, he considered joining the U.S. Marines, until a mentor recommended a different path: the Peace Corps.

Since 2009, Peter's spent nearly five years volunteering with the Peace Corps in three very different parts of the world: Azerbaijan, China, and the country of Georgia.

Peter learns to play mah–jongg from some seventh-grade students he tutored in Chonqqing, China.

“In all three countries I volunteered, I felt loved, valued, and appreciated,” recalls Peter. “I learned that if a person can overcome his or her fears and become resilient and tenacious, then they can do a lot to represent America abroad.”

Peter receives an honorary diploma with a painted picture of himself from his students and colleagues in Georgia.

Peter doesn't seem like someone whose early life was filled with sadness, anxiety, and war-time trauma.

His energy is ebullient; his laughter, infectious. He credits his favorite U.S. presidents — Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy — for inspiring his positive worldview.

“Through studying American history, I developed a great admiration for President Lincoln. I appreciate his views on forgiveness,” says Peter. “He has this quote that stuck with me: ‘better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right; not even killing the dog will cure the bite.’ When I was younger, I was very angry about being separated from my parents. But focusing on that didn’t help me. Lincoln knew that; now, I know it too.”

President Kennedy inspires him for a different reason: service. “President Kennedy was born into a wealthy family, but he served his country fearlessly, and when he became president, he founded the Peace Corps. I know he would appreciate my service, just like I respect his.”

Peter finished his last round of service with the Peace Corps in September.

Peter and a community mullah drink tea and discuss equal education for girls and boys beyond secondary school in Gardabani, Georgia.

He's planning to go back to school for a second master's degree, this time studying foreign policy and national security at American University. After that, the world really is — as that elder told him so many years ago — his soccer ball. It might involve public service work, potentially in government or at a think tank promoting sustainable development. It may even be working with the military on his passion: a national security policy based on promoting mutual understanding and friendship. All of those careers are open to him — partly because of his focus and dedication to learning and partly because of his experience in the Peace Corps.

Peter and two of his students in Gardabani, Georgia.

“America restored my dignity and gave me a valuable education. I want to do everything I can to say thank you,” says Peter proudly. “As Kennedy says, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' Service is my answer, wherever that takes me.”

Learn more about how to start your own Peace Corps journey.

More
True
Peace Corps
Facebook / Mikhail Galin

Putting your pet in cargo during a flight isn't always safe. In 2016, the Department of Transportation reported a total of 26 pet deaths and 22 injuries on flights. Because conditions in cargo can be uncomfortable for animals, the Humane Society recommends taking your pet aboard when you fly, or just leaving it at home.

It's not surprising that one Russian man didn't want to put his overweight cat in cargo during an eight-hour flight from Moscow to Vladivostok. What is surprising is the great lengths he took to fly with his four-legged friend.

Russian airline Aeroflot allows pets to fly inside the plane's cabin, as long as the cat weighs under 17.6 pounds and stays in its carrier during the flight. When Mikhail Galin went to check in, he was told he couldn't fly with his four-year old cat, Viktor. Viktor weighed in at 22 pounds and would have to be relegated to cargo.

But Viktor was sick from their earlier flight from Riga, Latvia to Moscow. And besides, Viktor had been allowed to fly inside the cabin during that flight. The airline staff didn't even bother to make Viktor sit on the scales. Galin was unable to persuade staff to bring his fur baby on board.

"To all attempts to explain that the cat won't survive there on an 8-hour flight with the baggage and would haunt her in her nightmares for the rest of her life, she (the Aeroflot staff member) replied that there are rules," Galin wrote in a Facebook post translated from Russian.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Photo by Kelvin Octa from Pexels

Newborn babies don't seem to do much beyond eating and pooping and, of course, hiccupping. A lot. Parenting advice on how to cure a baby's hiccups runs the whole gamut. It's recommended parents try everything from nursing to stop feeding the baby so much, from giving the baby gripe water to letting the hiccups play their course. But when your baby hiccups too much, you shouldn't freak out. There's a good reason why.

A new study published in Clinical Neurophysiology found that hiccups play an important role in a baby's development. Researchers from the University College London found 217 babies for their study, but only looked at 13 newborns with persistent hiccups. Ten of those babies hiccupped when they were awake, and three hiccupped during their "wriggly" sleep. We have no idea how the scientists got any work done with all that cuteness lying around.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon / YouTube

Actress Kristen Bell and "The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon showed off their vocal and comedic chops on Tuesday night when the performed a medley of 17 Disney songs, spanning nine decades, in just five minutes.

The duo started with 1940's "When You Wish Upon a Star" and ended with 2013's "Let it Go" from "Frozen."

Bell will reprise her role as Anna in Disney's upcoming "Frozen 2."

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Ask almost any woman about a time a man said or did something sexually inappropriate to them, and she'll have a story or four to tell. According to a survey NPR published last year, 81% of women report having experienced sexual harassment, with verbal harassment being the most common. (By contrast, 43% of men report being sexually harassed. Naturally harassment toward anyone of any sex or gender is not okay, but women have been putting up with this ish unchecked for centuries.)

One form of verbal sexual harassment is the all too common sexist or sexual "joke." Ha ha ha, I'm going to say something explicit or demeaning about you and then we can all laugh about how hilarious it is. And I'll probably get away with it because you'll be too embarrassed to say anything, and if you do you'll be accused of being overly sensitive. Ha! Won't that be a hoot?

Keep Reading Show less
popular