Despite a massive structural change and a second COVID lockdown, Jesuit Social Services’ Just Voices program has continued its long-time fruitful relationship with Catholic Boys College (CBC) in Windsor.
This year the College merged with the former Presentation Convent for Girls College and St. Marys Primary School to become the newly established St. Mary’s College.
As part of its Refugee Week 2021 activities, St Mary’s College recently hosted two Just Voices speakers: Agum Maluach (originally from Sudan) and Isaiah Lahai (originally from Sierra Leone).
Students were riveted by both presentations and about the difficulties facing refugees in their homelands, as well as their journeys to Australia.
Despite the many challenges they’ve faced, both Agum and Isaiah have uplifting and inspiring stories and have ultimately found peace and security in their new homes.
Agum told students her childhood memories of Sudan are of carefree days, hunting for small animals with her brothers and helping on the family farm.
In 1997, however, her life was irrevocably turned upside down when civil war broke out in Sudan. “I remember the roar of the bomber jets coming from the North. Next, I remember running, screaming, terror and chaos.”
The days and months following were incredibly harsh for Agum and her family. “Because we were from the South, my parents walked us into neighbouring Uganda. The refugee camps were so full. Food was scarce and we were so thirsty. But we were safe.”
Eventually, Agum was granted asylum in Australia, a country she had never heard of. “I had only ever heard of America from the talk in the refugee camps. I didn’t know what or where Australia was!”
Agum is now the Senior Cultural Officer at Werribee Zoo and a much in-demand public speaker.
Isiah’s story about his hard years in African refugee camps before he arrived in Australia was very impactful.
He told students about how while working as a taxi driver in Hobart, he was bashed and racially abused one night by several drunken passengers.
The two men were later charged and jailed by police for the attack.
Remarkably, Isaiah went to their court case and spoke on behalf of their defence team.
“I killed hate with love,’’ he said.
“One of those boys actually tracked me down later and begged me for my forgiveness and we have become good friends.’’
Since arriving in Australia in 2006, Isaiah said his desire has been to be a legacy driven citizen and contributor to society. “I came to realise that Australians are willing to walk with you, in your shoes, if you share your story with them,” he said.
CBC Teacher Kate Johnson said she was thrilled to host the two Just Voices speakers and to engage with Jesuit Social Services again.
“Both Agum and Isiah did wonderful presentations and raised much conversation amongst the students after the event.
I am so glad that with all the changes at the College we have maintained our great relationship with the Just Voices program and Jesuit Social Services.”
For more information about Just Voices contact Paulie Stewart or Danielle Sherry on 0430031630 or visit the program’s page here.