Where he comes from:
David was born in Wau, one of the largest cities in South Sudan and the capital of Western Bahr al Ghazal state. He was only three years old when he and his father fled the brutal killings of the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005), leaving his pregnant mother, who could not walk with them, behind. Having his childhood disrupted at such a young age, David has few memories of what it was like living together as a family. He remembers happily waiting for his father to come home from work, because he always brought him lollies. He distinctly remembers the day his father returned early and his demeanor was very different. That was the day he announced to his wife that he was on the “hit list” of the north-based Sudanese government, which at that time started killing educated men in the south. That was also the day that David last saw his mother.
How he got to Australia:
The long journey to Australia started when David was three and ended when he was twenty-two. After they fled from Wau, David and his father walked for two months to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. David remembers the harsh journey with lack of food and water and bodies scattered alongside the road; his father told him they were “sleeping”. They spent four years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia until they were “kicked out” because of the Ethiopian Civil War. No option remained, but to walk back to Sudan. However, the situation there was still volatile and after a year of languishing in open armed conflict, David and his friends headed for Kenya. By the time David reached Kakuma refugee camp, it was 1992, he was about ten years old and without any family. He spent 13 years in the Kenyan refugee camp with other South Sudanese boys orphaned or separated from their families by the war – this group later became known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. David’s friends were all he had and they became very close during these insecure years. In 2001, the US Government resettled many of the “Lost Boys”, but David missed out. His day finally came when a cousin who was already living in Australia offered to sponsor him. David arrived in August 2004; he was 22 years old.
He could not believe that such a world existed. Everything felt like a dream and even today, after almost six years, David still sometimes cannot believe the reality that he lives in.
David’s arrival in Australia was filled with anxiety and astonishment. Flying through Sydney to get to Melbourne, David could not believe that such a world existed. Everything felt like a dream and even today, after almost six years, David still sometimes cannot believe the reality that he lives in. Transitioning from the poverty of the refugee camp, where he did not know where his next meal was coming from, to the material wealth of Australian life is still perplexing.
The first challenge David encountered was to understand how to connect with people, services and just “live” in Australia. Everything was completely new and each task, even a simple one like cooking or filling the bathtub, had to learnt from scratch. Luckily, his cousin was here to help him figure things out and explain processes as simple as a meeting at Centrelink. Another challenge was posed by the constant flashbacks of his previous life and how to learn to live with what had been. David had experienced much trauma in his young life. How was he to deal with it and what was this new life he was to lead? These difficult questions preoccupied much of his thoughts in the beginning. One of the things that helped him move forward was the opportunity to tell his story. He regularly shares his experience to raise awareness and prevent others from going though the same ordeal.
One of the things that helped David move on was getting an education at the University of Melbourne, where he completed a Bachelor of Arts, with a major in Political Science and Criminology. But even while studying, David kept thinking: “what do I do now that I’m in school and doing well?” He thought about the assistance of strangers while he was a refugee and decided that he wanted to say thank you and dedicate his life to helping others in need.
To give back to the community David volunteered with the Brotherhood of St Laurence and after a year was offered a permanent role. His job involves running the Breakfast Club to support refugee families in Fitzroy by providing a healthy breakfast for children before school. He also coordinates the School-Parent Education Program, which assists parents from non-English speaking backgrounds to become more involved in and informed about their children’s education. David sees himself in the children that he works with and his work has helped him regain hope in humanity.
David loves soccer. In Kakuma, he was the captain of his soccer club and he continues to play on the weekends in Melbourne. He also loves to watch movies (except for horror movies), but confesses that when he takes time off to engage in hobbies he feels a pang of guilt. The feeling that he should be using all his time to help others is very persistent.
What he likes about Australia the most:
The best thing about Australia is the friendliness of its citizens. People in the street smile, stop and listen. This is a vast difference from David’s childhood, which was characterised by fear and aggression. He is thankful for “the privilege” of sleeping without fear or the sound of gunshots or constantly looks for ways to show his gratitude.
What he misses about Sudan/Kenya the most:
The “Lost Boys” became David’s family and now they are scattered all over the world in Canada, USA, New Zealand and Australia. He misses them and the strong connection they had. He also somewhat misses the unstructured nature of life in the refugee camp, where no one knew what would happen next or where the next meal was coming from. The predictability of life in Australia is not something David is used to.
Hopes and dreams:
David has the ultimate dream: a peaceful world. How to get there is the big question. David’s focus is particularly on Africa because it always seems to be mourning and in destruction. One of his current initiatives that he hopes to expand is leadership training for young Sudanese people – both locally and in Africa. He is involved in running leadership programs for Sudanese youth in positions of influence and examining concepts such as good governance and the eradication of tribal conflict. The idea is for them to take these ideas back to their communities and facilitate cultural change.
Dreams for his personal development include further study - either Humanitarian Law or Peace Studies.
People from round the world look and think differently and it is easy to be misguided by stereotypes. Until you get to sit down with people and talk to them, it is important to extend respect and kindness to all people. Australia has opened its doors and helped a lot of people. Refugees who come here need to work hard, not only to build their lives, but also to give back to the community and ensure that Australia remains a better place than those they came from. It is important that those that were born here as well as those that resettle here work hard, open up and accept each other.