Apajok Biar was born in Kenya 23 years ago in a refugee camp. In 1997 Apajok and her family were resettled in Sydney and she uses her upbringing, family and strong sense of community as a driving force to do some good. This is Apajok’s story.
When I was 17 I met two young people who were my age who had created real social change in their communities who inspired me and made me really know I can achieve anything I put my mind to. At 18 I started running language classes for the South Sudanese in the Sutherland Shire where anyone was welcome to come and learn dinka too. I felt it was important for us South Sudanese who were born or grew up here to have access to language classes so we could read, write and effectively speak in dinka and prevent language barriers within our own families.
Not long after, I experienced racial abuse at my local train station where a man spat at me and continued to say really mean things to me. I was in a state of complete shock and fear. Not feeling as though I was safe at all I stayed quiet and waited for him to leave and I did not respond. The next day I went to my mentor at the time who was the manager at the local community centre that I volunteered at with the youth holiday program. I had told her what I experienced and after discussing it we agreed the cause of the racial attack was xenophobia, the fear of the unknown he did not know me nor did I do anything to fuel or instigate it.
At 19 I established and co-founded the South Sudan Voices of Salvation Inc. and over the last three years, I have been passionate about creating awareness of Refugee youth and the strengths and capacities they have as well as highlighting the barriers we face, such as racism which comes in many forms including systematic.
To be able to not only tell them but show them that your past does not determine your future. Believe in your dreams and you can achieve whatever you put your mind and heart too.
My ability to mentor other youth to be able to achieve their dreams is what makes me happy.
What I have found the most difficult about being a young person challenging the status quo is people in power are unwilling to take me seriously, not only because I am a young person but also because I am a young female. What I say is really easy to be disregarded but that does not deter me, it makes me even more motivated and determined to keep pushing and fighting for equality and to see real change occur. I want to see a better future for my niece to have to opportunity to speak up and be heard, where she has the same opportunities as boys her age.
What’s next for me is that I will be flying out to Geneva shortly to attend thematic meetings and advocate for refugee women and girls at UNHCR Conference. I will get the opportunity to also speak on one of the panels advocating for gender specific services and highlighting gender blindness in service provision even in emergency response.
advocating for refugee women and girls and making sure our voices are heard
I will also be one of the opening keynote speakers at Multicultural National Youth Conference in Melbourne in late November, where I will be speaking on refugee youth advocacy from local to Global and our strengths and capacities and what that looks like.
On another note, I have just commenced my job as the youth participation officer at Cumberland council, where I am working hard to increase the participation of young people in the Cumberland area in council, build their capacities to lead and run their own projects and ideas.
I am excited to see what the future holds for me. But I am sure whatever it is I am ready to take it on.
My family background is that I am number 5 out of 6 children, my oldest brother was born in Sudan, and when war broke out my parents had to flee for safety where they settled in a refugee camp in Ethiopia where they had my other two brothers. Not long after they had to flee again and arrived to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya where they had my older sister and myself. Then we came to Australia February 11th 1997 and were resettled in Bondi where we lived for 4 years. My youngest sister was born at Randwick hospital in 2000 and eventually we all moved to the shire where we have lived ever since.
What I loved about my neighborhood growing up was the trust and sense of community we had in our street and suburb of Caringbah. After school, all the kids in the street would come to the front of our house and we would all play games from cricket, rugby, ride our bikes and rollerblades.
My mother is a nurse in a retirement village and my dad works for Family and Community services in disability support. But my dad served as the South Sudanese and other marginalised areas chairman for seven years, and he has brought over 60 family and friends over to Australia since we arrived, my parents have shown me what it really means to be compassionate and caring towards others. They have also taught me that what I have is not mine but God has given me to help and to give to others.
What advice would you give to people who feel like they can’t do what you do? That age is just a number, that if you have the motivation and drive to create change you can achieve it. Do not give up even when you feel as though you are not making an impact you can change a person’s life who may then go on to change other people’s lives, perseverance.
What do you want to highlight as a voice for Refugees? Media is important in that it needs to report also on positive stories of people from a refugee background, because they are so quick to define a whole community on the actions of few and that is we have to live with the repercussions of that. It demonizes us and really shapes how we get treated by others.