Less than a month after arriving in New York to begin an internship at the United Nations, FIU alumna Valeriana Chikoti-Bandua received an opportunity to do what only a few other interns have.
Not only did she get to meet U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, she was also invited by him to deliver a speech on behalf of her fellow interns on the floor of the General Assembly.
Being the only Angolan interning and currently working in the U.N. Secretariat, which carries out the diverse day-to-day work of the U.N. with an international staff working in duty stations around the world, Chikoti-Bandua stood out to the secretary general.
In her two-minute speech on Feb. 17, Chikoti-Bandua thanked the secretary general for the opportunity to work, learn and serve in the United Nations and urged fellow interns to take up the responsibility to address various issues facing the world.
“As future leaders, it is now our duty to stand in solidarity to speak up in order to address global issues that pertain to the reduction of poverty and gender inequality while also working to create tangible solutions that address economic and social injustices and disparities,” she said in her speech.
For Chikoti-Bandua, who graduated from FIU’s Master of Arts in Global Governance program (MAGG) and was born a refugee, many of the issues she touched upon in her speech hit close to home.
Chikoti-Bandua was born in Zambia after her parents were forced to flee from their home country of Angola as young children with tens of thousands of other Angolans to seek refuge from war. When she was three years old, they moved again, to Papua New Guinea, where she spent most of her childhood growing up.
Growing up as an African in a different nation, she initially struggled in elementary school and middle school to fit in, because many times she was looked upon as an outsider and experienced bullying, racism and other harsh realities.
Looking back now, however, Chikoti-Bandua sees her differences as a blessing rather than a curse.
“I had to overcome a lot, all because I was different,” Chikoti-Bandua says. “But now I see that being different was possibly the best thing that could have happened. At the time I didn’t know that because I really wanted to fit in, but it allowed me to become an advocate for women, refugees, minorities and immigrants because I know what it’s like to experience what they experienced.”
Throughout her elementary, middle and high school education Chikoti-Bandua went to different international schools and some of her teachers helped her grow into leadership roles as one of her school’s student body presidents.
“They told us that one day we would be leaders and strongly suggested we apply to the U.N. [as interns] one day,” Chikoti-Bandua recalls. “One of the things that stood out throughout my educational experience was that people kept encouraging me to use my international background to take the next step.”
‘A DREAM INSIDE ME’
After her father’s passing in 2004 and then graduating as the salutatorian at Port Moresby Business College, Chikoti-Bandua was at a crossroads when the opportunity to come to the United States to pursue a college degree presented itself. After a lot of consideration, she decided to take the leap.
“It really shook up my life because I realized that everything I learned I needed to put to use,” Chikoti-Bandua says. “It was a dream inside of me to go to the United States to study. When my parents were younger, they didn’t have the same opportunities that I have been granted.”
After getting her bachelor’s degree at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., she learned about FIU’s MAGG program through a Google search and applied.
She graduated from the master’s program in Spring 2014 and hopes that her education and internship at the U.N. lay the foundation for a life dedicated to serving those who are going through what she faced growing up.
Driven by her faith, family and closest friends, Chikoti-Bandua says she is dedicated to being an advocate for human rights in Sub-Saharan Africa and around the world in some capacity, whether it be at the U.N., a position of leadership in Angola or through another international organization.
“I would like to serve those who have been in situations similar to myself. Refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers… those who suffer to have a place in society and feel that their societal issues are swept under the rug,” Chikoti-Bandua says. “I want to be a voice for those who are voiceless.”