This is
Anna | Homebush West
South Sudanes Community Leader

I was born in Wau, South Sudan, in 1964. My father was a school principal who believed that girls should be educated. I am the second eldest of seven children and worked hard in the village, but loved to study.

In 1983 I graduated from Tonj Teachers Training Institute with a Diploma of Teaching and I married at 18 in 1985. While rearing children from 1986, I continued to teach in Wau till 1987 when the impact of the war made it impossible for normal living to continue. Houses and buildings were being burnt and many people were killed in the raids. Often the schools, churches and hospitals were the focus of the bombing raids. Cattle and children were kidnapped and many people were killed.

People had to stay in hiding for their safety. There was no food and everyone was always frightened. Many bodies were left unburied and vultures were common. Fear, trauma and tears were normal.
When I fled to Khartoum with my daughter, I was appointed principal of Comboni Primary School under the Bishop of Khartoum. Many refugees fled Southern Sudan to Khartoum and forty-eight people sheltered in our house.

In 1990 I once again fled Khartoum as it was unsafe. I escaped with my four children, under the pretext of illness, and for 10 years was a refugee in Alexandria, Egypt. During this time I began my work as leader of Women’s Groups, also working for the Bishop of Alexandria as a Lay Missionary, coordinating what education could be provided for the refugees as they awaited settlement in a new country. Although pregnant, I was thrown into a one-room prison with thirty-five other women. Heat, over-crowding, non-existent sanitation and lack of privacy made conditions shocking.

Meanwhile, I had little news of my parents and siblings in Southern Sudan. I had applied to UNHCR for refugee status and I was finally successful in 2000. I arrived in Sydney with eight children, five of my own children and three nieces and nephews. I provided for my children by working as a cleaner and then in a nursing home. Everything was very difficult – I had no language, no knowledge of the money, no understanding of Australian culture and no experience in government assistance or budgeting. While working, I was studying English and voluntarily helping new arrivals from Sudan settle into Australian life. In 2003, I sponsored my parents to Australia, where they now live with me and I began working as a teacher’s aide assisting the children in classes, interpreting for parents and providing counseling and family support. In 2009, Archbishop Pell appointed me Pastoral Care Worker for the Sudanese Australian Catholic Community. I was appointed Chairperson of the Aweil Community in Australia and Leader of the Sudanese Women’s Group in NSW from 2002 to 2007.

I am a woman of deep faith and working for my community consumes most of my life. The project nearest to my heart is the establishment of a secondary girls school in Aweil so that young women may have the opportunity to shape the future of South Sudan…Educate a woman, Educate a nation.