I am the youngest of six children. I was born in South Sudan in a town call Torit, where people from many different tribes live together, mostly in peace. I was 3 months old when the war started and my mother escaped with me, my two brothers and one sister. My oldest sister and brother went with my uncle. Since then, I have only seen them in photos they have sent from Sudan.
We lived in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya from 1995. It is one of the biggest camps in the world, about the size of Hobart. I will never forget it. The fear and desperation of the people, the crowds, dust, dirt, the misery. It is a place full of faded people waiting for rescue. It is a place to survive, not a place where people wanted to live and raise families.
I remember going to school there, having classes under the shade of the tree and living in a house made from mud and grass. I remember having rations of food. If we ran out, we didn’t have more for two weeks. Food queues were always very long, sometimes we spent the whole day under the hot sun waiting, and it was always the same; maize, lentils, beans and occasionally flour for bread. I remember people being hungry and sick.
The place is a desert with a few rivers and a few mountains in the distance. The land is infertile, which makes it very hard for the people to farm. The United Nations have to supply the food. It is difficult to describe this place to someone who has never seen a refugee camp.
We lived there for 10 years, arriving in Tasmania in June 2005. Our friends and relatives were at the airport and we hadn’t seen them for six years. When I saw my friends, all the worries just faded away. The Sudanese community was very large when I came to Tasmania and we had events and socialised together, but over time many decided to move to the mainland because they couldn’t find work and the weather is so cold!
I now know I suffered culture shock when I arrived in Australia. Everything was difficult and different. I didn’t know how things worked. I could not speak English very well. I learned a little of English at the refugee school but it was not a good education. I remember going to school and being by myself every day. No one talked to me or wanted to be my friend. They saw me as different to them. I felt lonely and didn’t understand the education system. It was all very different to what I experienced in Kenya.
A few years later in college, I shared my story with my class-mates. I told them what I had to go through in South Sudan and Kenya and of my difficulty fitting into Australia and the racism I’d experienced. Two others in my class also shared similar stories and we decided to start a program dedicated to breaking down social and racial barriers called Students Against Racism (SAR). I am very proud of our work. 10 years on we have all graduated and we are still sharing our stories. We have delivered over 150 SAR workshops to over 10,000 participants.
We talk to schools and businesses about refugees and migrants, about why we left our home countries and how we have tried to fit in. We are working with the Tasmanian Police recruits to deliver workshops and develop programs for Tasmanian sporting clubs to combat racism in sport.
The Women's Business fashion show is part of the SAR project. It’s an event where women tell their stories, dance and talk about their culture through clothing. SAR has allowed me to develop many skills, to speak publicly and advocate for people in need. I have also learnt from other cultures, made new friends and helped people understand who I am, my values, religion and culture.
I work at the Hobart Women's Shelter providing support and crisis accommodation for women and children experiencing homelessness or escaping domestic violence. I completed year 12 at Hobart College and then did a Certificate III in Community Service. I went on to do an Arts degree, graduating in 2015 with a major in Sociology and Gender Studies at UTAS.
I have been working at the Hobart Women’s Shelter since 2013. Before that I was a support worker at Pontville Detention Centre. Working at the Shelter has been a great experience and privilege because I have always wanted to support the disadvantaged and those at risk.
I’m a Christian, and I worship at The Redeemed Christian Church of God in Montrose. I go every Sunday and also during the week. I serve in my church and community and the church also supply food hampers to the Hobart Women's Shelter.
In Africa, God is very important to us and He is the reason for being alive. I love my God and He is the one who made things possible. My choices in life are influenced by my belief in God, because God is a helper in times of need, my passion is to help people who are suffering and in need.
Working with my clients, I feel positive that I can help them have a better life. I was in need too when me and my family lived a hard life in a refugee camp; now that I have a better life, it is my turn to help others.
I built a house for my mum as a gift to thank her for all the years she suffered to make me who I am today. If it wasn’t for my mum escaping with my siblings and me, we wouldn’t be here today.
Now, I am looking forward to married life for myself and the changes that will bring.
Photography by Ninna Millikin.