Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Rod Mbeki arrived Australia a few months ago, after spending the past 24 years in refugee camps in Congo and Tanzania.

“Life in the refugee camps was difficult”, he said; reflecting on his previous life and times. “There was no security. No sufficient food. No freedom of movement”.

A virtual prison!

And, besides, “You can’t even go outside the camp without police escort”, Rod said. “Anyone who dared to venture outside the camp without official authorization was severely punished”.

Indeed, Rod Mbeki (name slightly changed to protect his identity) has come a long way. He left his homeland, Burundi, after the Hutu Massacre more than a few decades ago; seeking refuge in neighboring countries and never knew what was ahead of him.

How things have changed? Now, Rod appears to be relaxed and comfortable in his suburban Adelaide home in South Australia; making the most of his new environment and learning English as a fourth language. In fact, he already speaks French, Swahili, and kihundi fluently.

Thus, in a characteristic expression of African optimism, Rod is upbeat about his new life; seeing Australia as a “nation of peace, freedom and opportunity”; obviously believing that he can achieve whatever he wants to achieve in his new country.

The sky is the limit!

Saturday, September 25, 2004


Kuir Alaak Pager is a young man in a hurry, driven by an enormous desire to succeed. A “Lost Boy” made good! He believes coming to Australia is one of the best things that has ever happened to him. And, honestly, thinks he is lucky to be here.

The tyranny of distance may not be a significant factor in Kuir’s life. But Australia is still a long way from the Majak village in the Kongar district of Southern Sudan where Kuir was born and bred.

Nevertheless, Kuir is extremely well-adjusted; and is making good progress. He is spellbound by the quality of life and the educational opportunities in Australia today. And like most migrant youths struggling for survival here, he wants to have the good things of life and the level of education he couldn’t have had in his home country.

But Africa still beckons. And Kuir still dreams of his ancestral homeland; thinking about the good times and the bad. “I miss the laughter, the broad smiles, the rhythm of community life, friends and relatives in Africa”, he says. And, of course, he misses the real life stories of the local heroes - stories of enlightenment, of struggle and survival.

In fact, he still remembers the time, in the early 1990s, when the rogue elements of the Nuer militia force killed his people and took their cattle.

“It was a terrible situation”, Kuir says. “I fled (the violence) across the border to Uganda to save my life”.

And yet, and yet , “Africa is where my heart is”, he insists. But “I like Australia” and the Australian way of life.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


The African nations have politely asked Australia to render some form of logistical and military support to help the African Union (AU) troops maintain peace in the troubled Darfur region of the Sudan.

Meanwhile, there is no specific offer of assistance.

But a report in today’s Australian newspaper says that the Government in Canberra is likely to announce that logistical contribution would be made to the AU effort in Darfur as soon as possible.

Watch this blog!

Friday, September 17, 2004


An asylum seeker, Mohammad Hasan al Khafaji, has won his freedom at last, after years of periodic detention in Australia. Now he has been released into the community because the authorities are convinced that he has no nation to call home. Stateless!

Nevertheless, the point to note is that without such tender mercy in the form of state intervention, he could have been detained for life.

Monday, September 13, 2004


The Edwardstown and Whyalla Baptist Churches in South Australia are raising funds to build a home for orphans in Uganda, according to an article in today’s Advertiser newspaper. They are inspired to help!

The milk of human kindness started to flow in the right direction (where it’s needed most) after a visit to South Australia in June this year from the Watoto Ugandan children’s choir.

Members of the two congregations will be heading to Kampala soon to visit the villages and build houses for the orphans of the civil war and the deadly AIDS epidemic.

They need your support!

Sunday, September 12, 2004


The story of James Guba’s journey from the refugee camps in Africa to eventual resettlement in Australia caught my attention. By every count, it’s an inspiring hard-luck story of heroism and survival beyond all kinds of adversities.

James has a smart and creative way of thinking about his adopted country, Australia; seeing it as a “home away from home” and “a good place to bring up children”. He is one of the new arrivals from the war-torn Sudan - barely four months old in Australia. In fact, he is still self-consciously trying to come to terms with what it means to start a new life in a new culture.

But there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind about James’s survival ability, even in the most challenging conditions. James grew up in Kajakeji near Juba in Southern Sudan - the heartland of the current struggle.

He has been through a lot in his life; witnessing the horrors of war, death, destruction, starvation, malnutrition and disease in his native Kuku community in Sudan. He lost more than a few relatives and close friends. And, as the war dragged on, all what he worked so hard to achieve vanished into the thin air. The effect on James was devastating!

He ultimately survived the horrors of that war and the local militia atrocities and triumphed! And live to tell the tale!

Nevertheless, surviving the war is one thing, but surviving the peace is becoming an even more challenging proposition. “Starting from the scratch is not easy for me…I‘ve had a lot of problems here already; notably rental problems”, James said. ”They often ask for references, level of income, bond, and rental history which I can’t provide, because I’ve only just arrived”.

And, more importantly, there are employment problems, too. James is a qualified bookkeeper, a true professional, with 15 years experience in the public and private sectors before the war got out of hand in his homeland; but he just can’t seem to be able to find a suitable job in his field of specialization; partly because his qualifications are not even recognized in Australia.

Yet, James is not giving up. He has a healthy appetite for life; and is ready to try anything. Meanwhile, he has been busy polishing up his English language skills and upgrading his professional credentials. He definitely wants to remain active in the community here and to be self-employed.

“I want to set up my own business”, he says without prompting. “And start making some real money…I have something to offer the Australian people”. And he, definitely, believes he has what it takes to run a successful small business here in Adelaide city.

James draws a great deal of strength from suffering and hardship; seeing his new life in Australia as an opportunity to try new things and change his life for the better.

Friday, September 10, 2004


As the war in Sudan drags on; and the irregular militia groups known as the Janjaweed continue to terrorize the predominantly non-Arabic villagers in Southern Sudan, an increasing number of African refugees have found their way to Australia under the Australian government’s special humanitarian program.

Consequently, Australia has granted visas to more than 14,000 Africans under the humanitarian program in the past two years. And close to 10,000 of these Africans have been from the Sudan, according to the recent issue of the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

The government’s own figures also revealed that in 2003-04, about 4,500 people born in Sudan settled in Australia under the program. But the impact of the war (and the militia brutality) has taken its tool on the refugees now arriving Australia. And help is needed in a lot of areas.

This calls for a full range of services; including the torture and trauma counseling services which is part of the wider package designed to heal the psychological wound and help the refugees adjust to life in Australia.

Common problems areas in which support and counseling may be needed include: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and lethargy.

Other services to assist the refugees might include meeting the new arrivals at the airport, providing transport, arranging housing, emergency medical and dental services, clothing, food, and basic household goods.

The point to note is that the provision of re-settlement services often call for a great deal sensitively with men and women, because of their cultural background and the impact of their experiences.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


The emergence of a new generation of African migrants and refugees in Australian society in recent years has led to a reconsideration of educational priorities; and a fresh approach to multicultural education.

The needs of the African child in school have also come into focus; challenging the established views of educational planners and teachers; leading to a rethink of curriculum development at all levels.

In fact, a significant change is in the air and some schools have already responded, positively, to the educational needs of the new arrivals.

School liaison officers have been employed in some metropolitan schools and put to work with the African families; helping to deal with some of the issues facing the African child in school - a move that is likely to facilitate a more collaborative arrangement between the school system, parents or care givers.

Meanwhile, the Seaton Primary School in Adelaide, South Australia, is looking for a qualified language instructor to teach an African language to all classes R – 7 ( a total of eight classes) for weeks 1 – 8 inclusive in term 4, 2004.

The African language to be taught is not specified at this stage. I assume it will depend on the qualifications of the successful applicant. Be that as it may, this is a positive development for the Africans in Australia.

This development has led to several conclusions: that is that the Africans are here to stay. Evidence points to the fact that African culture and values are increasing being recognized and articulated into the system in a way nobody could have predicted a few decades ago.

Sunday, September 05, 2004


David Thiong Ngoor, 28, was born in Wernyol in the Twich County in Southern Sudan. The story of his life and times in Australia is a story of hope for the future and a new beginning for a young man on a mission not only to change his life, but also to work for a better world.

As a student in the “Comboni Parents Secondary School” in the Dinka-Bor country, David witnessed the worsening crisis in his homeland, first hand, and the disastrous effects of the war on his people. The wounds of that terrible carnage are still fresh in his memory.

He lost everything of value to him during the war; including his dear mother, father, brothers and sisters. Now, he is all alone, an orphan in a highly competitive and unforgiving world, and the one and only survivor in a family of seven. He was in the Kiriyandongo refugee camp in Uganda before coming to Australia four months ago as a refugee. This is a new milestone for David.

Meanwhile, David’s eyes have seen a speck of light at the end of a very long tunnel, a sure sign of hope. At least, he can now afford to smile, from ear to ear, because Australia has given him a measure of peace and security - a good reason to live; thereby restoring his faith in humanity.

David is, no doubt, trying to make sense of the new environment. “Everything is new …and there is no war here”, he says as he reflects on his experience in Australia, so far. “I have learnt a lot already, and have made some new friends. ..Above all, I’m enjoying my studies”, not to talk of the new sense of freedom. But there are new challenges ahead.

Finding a part-time job has proved too difficult for David. He definitely wants to work, not just to keep the body and soul together, but so that he could put enough money aside to help others who are still languishing in the refugee camps. But who will employ him? I still think he needs a great deal of help in this direction.

If you can help, then, please drop me a line!

During our meeting, David talked at length about the generosity of Australians; focusing, appreciatively, on the efforts of those organizations (and individuals) who have helped him in the recent past and are still helping him now. “The Salvation Army, for one, gave me some winter clothes”, he said. And, more importantly, the “Australian Refugee Association (ARA) helped with some furniture: chairs, tables, and, of course, some nice cooking utensils”. Furthermore, the “ARA even helped to pay my fees…In fact, they have sent me to the TAFE college to learn English…I’m delighted”, to say the least.

David is of the Dinka-Bor extraction, a proud son of the soil. And a man of many tongues: he is literate in many languages; including Arabic which he speaks fluently. Now, for reasons of survival, he has decided to learn English not as a second language, but most probably as a third or fourth language. He’ll use the time spent on the language course to stop, pause, and reflect on his career options.

Thus, after the trauma of war and devastation in his country of origin, David’s luck is gradually changing. Like the vast majority of African-Australian youths, David sees education as the way out of poverty. He wants to work hard, settle down, and in a few years time, go to the university to study international relations and the law.

Good luck David! And may all your dreams come true!!

Friday, September 03, 2004


“It is a small world; isn’t it?” said Alifatou Djibril at the Light Square Campus of Adelaide Institute of TAFE where we met. “Although I study the Australian society and culture in school, way back in Africa, I didn’t know that one day I will be living in this great country (Australia); and enjoying the experience”.

Alifatou (popularly known as Alifa) was born in a little village of Bafilo (near Kara) in Togo, West Africa. She is an experienced world traveler and a keen sportswoman who has been in Australia since 1999. She was in action in the Women’s Shot Put event during the 2003 “Telstra A” series held at the Sydney Athletic Centre. And was one of the Star performers.

Inspired by a love of humanity and a love of challenge, Alifa has worked extremely hard to help the disadvantaged migrants in the emerging African communities in Australia. Her heart goes out to the “uneducated, the unemployed, and the poor women” who are trying to make a new life in Australia; but have found the daily struggle for survival really difficult to bear.

Thus, unlike their highly skilled, well educated, and career-minded counterparts who have enjoyed a lot of freedom and equality since their arrival in Australia, the uneducated women are in a world of their own; searching for a place in the new society. We now know very well that these disadvantaged women need a lot of help to cope with life in Diaspora. Simple things like shopping, using public transport, and interacting with people in the local community are beyond their level of competence because of the total lack of English language skills and their husband’s desire to restrict their freedom of movement, just to “protect” them.

Alifa talks candidly about the plight of the poor and the seriously disadvantaged in the emerging communities in Australia; and what people of goodwill should do to alleviate the problem of adaptation and re-settlement. But the wider community is yet to come to terms with the essential nature of the complicated factors at work in these communities.

Meanwhile, some of these unfortunate women are increasingly being insulated from the positive influences of mainstream values and beliefs. They are largely unemployed and seem to stay indoors most of the time. Consequently, they have no choice but to perform the traditional wifely duties as pre-ordained by the patriarchy: cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children and husband, out of the prying eyes of the public. They neither work. Nor study. Nor participate actively in social activities outside the confines of their home environment; especially during the early years in Australia.

A woman in this situation is totally dependent on the husband who controls her every move, and he is well respected at home because of his position of power and influence. He is the superior partner in the equation, the “Alpha and Omega” so to speak, the sole bread-winner who knows what is right and wrong for the entire family. He controls the family budget, a role that gives him tremendous amount of power. And he is not complaining because he has found a good way of dealing with status anxiety which is the lot of most migrant men. Thus, when he speaks, the wife listens; and both appear to complement each other quite well.

But, come to think of it, “There is more to life than listening to a man all the days of your life”, said Alifa who has extended a warm hand of friendship to many of the poor and lonely women here in South Australia; helping them with the necessary information about their rights; and women’s health issues.

Alifa is a good facilitator and knows exactly what she wants in life. “I have to find my own way in life: working, studying, and making a living…I don’t depend on any man to tell me what to do”. Indeed, Alifa’s time has come!

Actually, it is not just a question of patriarchal conspiracy that is keeping some of the poor African women in this position, there are well entrenched socio-economic and psychological dimensions of the problem. And old values die-hard!

Yet, again, as Alifa would have us believe: “It is good to listen to one’s partner and take advice but sometimes you have to discover things for yourself”.

One thing is certain, though: Alifa’s work in the African community here is yielding some positive results. She is seen as the rising star in the emerging communities. And a fine young woman of influence.