Opening doors for South Sudanese youth

Aben is a South Sudanese young person who arrived in Australia a couple years ago and has managed to successfully find his feet in this new society.

“It was challenging entering into a different world and it was the first time I’ve lived with people from different backgrounds and different places,” Aben recalls of his initial experience of settling in Australia. Despite the challenges, he says was fortunate to have quickly formed good friendships and connections through school.

After he finished high school in 2019, Aben realised he needed financial assistance to be able to pursue his dreams of going into medical school. He approached CMY’s Community Support Group – a team of staff dedicated to providing support to South Sudanese young people and their families in Melton and Brimbank, and Dandenong and Casey.

He started building connections with the team and attended their Family Day BBQ events and Youth Mental Health forum, where he says he got the opportunity to meet other young people who came from a similar background.

“The staff mentored me and gave me lots of positive thoughts that encouraged me – it was uplifting mentally and it gave me a real sense of hope.”

At a time when reports of so-called ‘African gangs’ were dominating our media coverage, Aben says he felt isolated and pushed away, but having a role model like Kenyatta Dei Wal, CSG Project Coordinator, has helped him through it and has opened doors for him.

“It’s good to see one of your kind leading the way and doing good things for society. I think to myself, if he managed to finish university and he’s here to help me out, then I can do it too. I was really shocked to see people who look like me, who can help me get to where I want to go.”

Aben was due to start Nursing at Swinburne University this year but plans have been put on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Despite the adversity Aben has faced over the past few years, he says going to school, working part-time as barista at a café in Carlton and having a hobby helped him get on track.

“I see opportunities here for me that I didn’t get back home so I want to make full use of it.”

Talking to some of the issues young people like him face today, Aben says mental health, unemployment and the communication gap between parents and their children are some of the big challenges.

“Our culture and the Western culture are different, so we need to figure out how to express ourselves and communicate with our families. It’s not easy, and young people don’t see that every parent wishes to see their kid become successful,” he says.

“In our country, mental health is a not a thing, they don’t take it seriously – it was one of the valuable lessons at the mental health forum and it’s opened my mind and helped me to look at life from different angles.”

Aben also has an interest in nutrition and strongly believes “what you put in your body will help you live a long life.” He hopes to start a YouTube channel to help young people and families in Australia cope with their new lives through fitness.

If you are a South Sudanese young person seeking support, contact the Community Support Groups here.