It's been almost two decades since I was separated from my family, my home and my past as a war child. Last year I was able to travel back to East Africa to find my parents, reconnect with others who survived the war and place my vote in the referendum that would eventually lead to the division of Sudan into two independent states.
Last July, the world celebrated the birth of its newest nation as South Sudan officially separated from the north. It was hoped then that after decades of bloodshed, the people of of both nations would finally know peace.
On Saturday, southern Sudan will become the independent country of South Sudan. This will be an historic event: the culmination of a six-year process that ended a long, brutal civil war that caused the deaths of millions. Although the road to independence has been hard, people look toward the future.
I missed Independence Day in America this year -- the picnic baskets hauled to the beach and the fireworks lighting up the night sky. But that's OK, because this year, I'm looking forward to July 9, when millions of South Sudanese will celebrate their independence for the first time.
For years, in some cases decades, they survived persistent and intense violence, lived in often squalid refugee camps or tough cities and were treated as second-class citizens in what -- at least for a few more months -- has been their country.
On Sunday, the people of Southern Sudan began casting ballots in a historic seven-day referendum in which they will choose between continued unity with northern Sudan, or secession to become a new state.
After a 55 year struggle, Africa's largest country, Sudan, is just days away from a referendum that may see the mainly Christian and traditional animist people in the south split from the majority Muslim north and become a new nation.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Sudan a "ticking time bomb," and urged international leaders to help ensure a successful referendum process by intensifying efforts to bring the north and south together.