Appreciation day a responsible & an unprecedented move by the Lost Boys in Australia
Give Thanks where it is deserved!!
Gurtong News - By Deng M. Koch
The Sudanese Lost Boys Association of Australia (SLBAA) based in Melbourne had on Saturday May 26, 2007 made a very courageous, encouraging and highly welcomed move by launching what they called “Appreciation Day”, a day that was dedicated to voluntary service by the Sudanese youths (“lost Boys and Girls”) to the Australian society and in particular the Victorian community. It was a well coordinated, diligently organized program which started off with the receiving of interstate delegates and invited guests the day before. These delegates and invited guests included: Mr. William Agar Anyar (Agaris) who is the Representative of the lost boys in New South Wales (Sydney), Miss Adol Makeny Dhieu, Secretary General of the Bhar El Ghazal Youth Union, Mr. David Makuer Kuel Manguak, Representative from Tasmania and Mr. Deng Koch, the Gurtong correspondent in Australia. Receiving the arrivals were Mr. Tut Pal Ding, Deputy Director of the SLBAA, Chaguor Ater Treasurer of the SLBAA, Judy Nyakuoth Tut Kuol, Assistant Treasurer, Mr. Biel Jaokor, Secretary of information for the SLBAA and his Assistant, Mr. Mayor Luk Lueth.
The guests were driven to the Ecumenical Migrant Centre offices where they were introduced and briefed about the program by the SLBAA team who have their office desk there. The guests were then taken to their accommodation. On the following day which was the due Saturday, the Lost Boys and girls went out in force and in three groups they descended onto their mission. A substantial number of people turned up to volunteer their service to the city of Melbourne as a symbol of the Sudanese people’s gratitude toward the Australian government and people for the opportunities they provided the people from the beleaguered African nation. They were ferried to their points of activity by minibuses. Mainstream Australians were involved and some actually spearheaded the work. One group went to Collingwood children’s farm where they group members embarked on weeding the garden and to some instances, milked the cow for the fun of it. The other two groups collected the money from the public mainly the passing motorists for Salvation Army charity, coinciding with the Red Shield Appeal week, an occasion in which the charitable organizations go out all over the cities to collect money.
Making a statement to Gurtong on the sideline, Mr. Tut Pal Ding the Deputy Director of the Sudanese Lost Boys Association of Australia, explained that the timing was a carefully planned decision, because the Red Shield Appeal week was a time when the society reflects on the needs of its disadvantaged members. He pointed out that the SLBAA approached the city council and indicated they want to help clean up the city wherever appropriate, hence the reason behind the weeding exercise in Collingwood children’s farm. A group of energetic young Sudanese ladies led by Miss Nyakuoth Tut worked tirelessly hand in hand with their male counterparts in order to realize the objective. Afterward the groups met up for lunch and headed back home in order to prepare themselves for the big dinner function that was to crown the appreciation day of activities.
The dinner function was held in the city of Yarra’s Collingwood town hall. The hall was full of attendants and there was a very jubilant mood all over the place. The dignitaries included some high profile Australian Politicians, both Federal and State. They were: Honorable Lindsay Tanner, Australian Federal Labor party Member for Melbourne and the Shadow Minister for Finance, Hon. Peter Batchelor, Victorian Government Minister for Victorian communities, Councilor Jenny Ferra, Mayor of the Melbourne’s city of Yarra, nearly three quarters of staff from the Department of Immigration, and ten Representatives of the Salvation Army representing different offices or sections. There were also a good attendance from the wider Sudanese community, elders and leaders attended. They included Mr. Samuel Machar, President of the Sudanese Community Association in Victoria, Mr. Clement Angui Deng Manyang - Chairman of the Bhar El Ghazal Community Development Association of Victoria, Mr. William Akec Mager, former teacher of the Lost Boys and Mr. Gatwec Kulang – Nasir Community Development Agency, among others.
The function which was steered by Mr. Tut Pal Ding and Miss Nyakuoth Tut, Deputy Director and Assistant Treasurer of the Sudanese Lost Boys Association of Australia, respectively, was opened with the singing of the Australian Anthem after which the night program proceeded. In his opening speech, Mr. Akoc Akuei Manhiem, Director of the SLBAA saluted the prominent figures, community members and the people of good will who have been helping the cause of the Lost Boys. He acknowledged in particular, the work done by some Australian friends of the lost boys’ organization including the principled, moral support given to the organization by Hon. Lindsay Tanner, Federal Member for Melbourne (ALP) and Australia’s Shadow Finance Minister. As a reference, Akoc cited the article written by Hon. Lindsay three months ago, which was Lindsay’s appeal to the Australian public to “make the lost boys feel at home”. The Director of the SLBAA went on to emphasize some objectives in his outline of the Association’s work and the desired or intended mission to be carried out inside Southern Sudan in a near future if things go according to plan.
Following Akoc’s speech was an activity by the Sudanese youths, a mixture of young men and ladies lined up in two lines, descending down from stage through parallel stairs carrying lighted candles in their hands and singing the famous Australian song – We are one but we are many and from all lands on earth we come.” It was a heart touching moment as Australians in their diversity and in the function hall, felt included! Speaking shortly after Akoc, Councilor Jenny Ferra the mayor of the city of Yara expressed on behalf of the city, her gratitude and appreciated the work done by the lost boys earlier on the day – weeding of gardens and fund raising for Salvation Army. Mayor Ferra was pleased to acknowledge the presence of the delegates and invited guests from Sydney, Perth, Tasmania and Brisbane. She noted that her constituency was composed of eighty per cent of people born overseas. She therefore thanked the Sudanese community in general and the Sudanese Lost Boys Association in particular, for the good will gesture, saying that it was a right step at the right direction and that she hoped such spirit will grow in the community. She thus congratulated, welcomed and thanked the community for being part of the city of Yarra.
On his part Hon. Lindsay Tanner congratulated Akoc and his colleagues, the Sudanese community and their friends. He gave background explanation on migration in Australia, noting that many communities who resettled in Australia faced some sort of discrimination, racism or any other form of segregation. Therefore he believed the Sudanese community will go through what they are currently facing – smear campaign in the media etcetera.
Another guest, Hon. Peter Batchelor, the Victorian State Government Minister for Victorian Communities spoke. He greeted the Sudanese community and spoke on behalf of Premier Hon. Steve Barrack. He encouraged the Lost Boys in their endeavors and emphasized that despite the many challenges and difficulties faced by the Sudanese community, they were welcomed and that no doubt the Sudanese people were part of the wider Australian society. He pledged his Department will try hard to ease the many resettlement problems faced by the community within his jurisdiction. Like his Parliamentary Colleague – Lindsay, he acknowledged the prevalence of some media campaign against the Sudanese community.
The other speakers were Samuel Machar, the State of Victoria’s Sudanese community leader, Gatwec Kulang – Nasir (Jikany) community development Association and Mr. William Akec Mager who was a teacher for the lost boys. The former teacher of the now lost boys spoke at length and gave a brief historical background on who are the lost boys and where they were and are currently. Akec Mager thanked the Australian government for the opportunities given to Sudanese people, noting that during his time as the Chairperson of the Sudanese community in Victoria, the government was presented with some requests regarding the processing of applications for resettlement and that the government agreed to take up part of the cost involved such as the cost of medical check up. He went on to draw the attendants’ attention to the issue of generalization; that people who do wrong must be treated first as citizens of Australia and not as Sudanese, and second as individuals and not as a source to smear the general Sudanese community.
Mr. Akec Mager recalled the hardship endured during the years of struggle by members of the lost boys and their guardians, noting that there were nearly 18,000 boys and 400 teachers in Ethiopia’s Pinyudo Camp; that flattened tin sheets were used as blackboard and charcoal as chalk; and that Kakuma camp was also built from scratch. He was therefore proud and dignified to see the Lost Boys emerge from all that and excel in success. It is worthy of mentioning that the lost boys are dreaming of carrying out volunteer initiative in Southern Sudan. This was confirmed earlier by Akoc Manhiem, the Director of the Lost Boys in his speech, that it was his and the Association’s dream to establish some vocational training centers for the youths in Southern Sudan in the near future.
Entertaining the attentive audience were the Yirol Dinka (Lakes
State) dancers who performed their vibrant, fascinating and trigger happy dances. In a unique fashion and style, a fine line of elegant young women, women and men danced so attractively that some curious Aussies couldn’t help but laugh heartily in admiration and swung into action with their photo Cameras. Bands of Hip Hop and Rap dancers known as “Ambassador 77 band, an Australian Music group, 211 Hip Hop, Romeo and David and Mc Stone Religious (Kor) who sang his song “Fruitful Fertile Land” – a reference to Southern Sudan were allowed to perform in their unique ways. The Nuer dancers performed their traditional dance followed by the Rek Dinka of greater Tonj. The Audience was stirred up by the exotic performances by the Tut Family, a group of brothers and sisters from one Sudanese family who danced perfectly in an almost Michael Jackson style. Then Madam Ajak Kwai, a rising talent in Australia performed and sang some emotion triggering songs. Her songs: “Hen ce dier Salva Kiir ato, hen ce kong dier cok aa raan tong e Jiec Amer abi ok werbei ee tiom Sudanic” and “my heart is with you Sudanese women” sank in well with many people in the audience particularly amongst the Dinka speakers, perhaps it triggered a soul searching reflection on the struggle of the Southern Sudanese people. All went according to plan and it was not a surprise that the whole program was concluded at about 2:00 AM Australian Eastern Standard Time.
Asked to comment on the outcome, Mr. Tut Pal Ding the Deputy Director of the Sudanese Lost Boys Association of Australia emphasized that he and indeed members of the Association were very pleased with the outcome of their efforts, the high turn out of the community members and the fact that there were a lot of high profile guests in the function. He appreciated the fact that many dignitaries were delighted by the action and that the program of the day passed smoothly and without any incident of anti-social behavior that sometimes plagued the Sudanese function. But who knows it may be due to the excellent organization put in place by the Lost Boys – they added security component! The Deputy SLBAA explained that the main purpose of organizing the appreciation day was as the name suggests, showing Australian society that the Sudanese people appreciated and will continue to appreciate the opportunities given to them by the Australian government and people; thus it was to bring together the Sudanese and Australian communities and promote awareness and understanding of both cultures. Mr. Tut Pal hope this will be the beginning of dialogue and building of effective networks.
In Melbourne is Deng M. Koch for the Gurtong Project in Australia.