More than just a program – South Sudanese young women changing lives 

My Sister’s Keeper (MSK) is a project that was initiated by Tempest Alphonse, CMY’s Youth Leadership Project Officer with the Community Support Group (CSG) in Melbourne’s southeast. It was designed to respond to the overrepresentation of South Sudanese young women in the legal system.  

The project was developed in consultation with young women aged 15-19 from the South Sudanese community and has been adapted as more participants joined the program. 

Tempest Alphonse, CMY’s Youth Leadership Project Officer (on the left) 

The program has already brought many positive changes to the 12 young women who attended MSK since its inception. Initially, most of the young women were neither attending school nor working. They were facing challenges such as a lack of direction, issues at home, spending time with negative peer groups, and a lack of education or employment pathways. Now, after attending MSK, almost all of them are engaged in meaningful and stable employment or studying.  

“There have been changes in their behaviour at activities. The concept of My Sister’s Keeper is to have that older female mentor for these young girls; a sister they can relate to. We’ve been through what they’ve been through and hopefully, we can help them see there are other ways of dealing with things.”  

MSK’s activities include workshops on positive relationships, goal setting, boundaries and values, as well as camping, swimming, paintballing, and go-karting. Lots of initiatives were focused on building a bond between the group and mentors, challenging mentees to find ways to face their fears and pushing them outside of their comfort zone. As an example, one of the mothers taught cooking classes that bridged the intergenerational gap and gave the participants direction and new skills.  

“All these young women have specific goals they want to achieve. They just need guidance and a space where they feel that they belong and can freely express themselves. They also want to contribute positively to the wider community.” 

One of the participants in the program who wasn’t working or studying at the time showed strong leadership skills. She was instrumental in getting the rest of the participants to attend the activities. 

“This participant really embodied “my sister’s keeper”, she made sure at workshops or any interaction, everyone was ok, had food and always put her hand up to assist in any way.” 

Now this participant is working full-time and enjoys her work, has a good relationship with her peers and family, and is very focused on her goals.  

The success and relevance of this program show the importance of its continuation and the need for sustained funding for the CSG. It gives space for young women to connect, and build positive relationships with older women who can mentor and guide them on specific matters on a one-to-one basis. They also learn together, share experiences and help each other navigate some of the challenges they face in their daily life. 

“The participants from this round can now be next year’s mentors to the next MSK participants.” 

Photo courtesy of CMY South Sudanese Community Support Group (CSG) Dandenong, Casey, Cardinia