New home, New beginnings

You get out of bed and groan, it’s another school day. 

You have an oral presentation which you are dreading and once it’s over, there’s still that awful maths assignment due at the end of the week. Lunch time is never long enough, after school is crammed with activities and all you feel like doing is hanging out in front of the TV in your PJs eating chocolate.

It’s fairly typical for a teenager to feel like this, it can be easy to take life for granted and we can often spend our time wishing things were different. Meet Josephine and Zaina – two average sixteen-year-old girls living in Australia.

The only thing is, they don’t spend their time wishing life was different, because it IS different.
They’ve already experienced a very challenging life in Africa and they happen to think living in Australia and going to school every day is pretty darn good.

A NEW LIFE FOR JOSEPHINE

I was born in Sudan. My father died when I was very little so my mother raised me and my three siblings alone. We moved a lot so that we could get food for our family and an education for us children. I lived in three different countries before I arrived in Australia so I am able to speak three different languages. It was so exciting when we were finally on our way to Australia. Do you know what I was super impressed with? Escalators! I was mesmerised by those moving stairs. I thought they were amazing. “I have it made here in Australia,” I thought, “I don’t even need to walk up stairs anymore.” Of course, once we arrived and moved into our new home, it wasn’t all quite that easy.

We didn’t have a car, so I would walk a long way to primary school each day. At first I got lost and was walking forever until finally I bumped into my new neighbour who showed me the way home. Our neighbours were so helpful to us when we first moved here. It was good starting in primary school because the other children were very accepting of me. I was very shy and always trying to fit in. Whenever people smiled at me I would feel good. I knew that they were not mad at me.

In Africa the teachers force you to learn: there was never any encouragement. I remember one teacher who would always pinch me in the ear when he was unhappy with me – Ouch! It used to hurt so much! The classes were large and you had no choices, you just did what you were told.

I love school in Australia. Now I go to school because I want to, not because I have to. In Australia the teachers care about you. If you fall over in Australia, there is someone who will catch you and help you. It makes all the difference. Sometimes I miss Africa. I miss my friends and family, because they are scattered all over the world now. I miss the food. There was never enough to eat there, but what you did have to eat was tasty! It’s just different from the food we eat here. But I love living in Australia. Even my Mum is more relaxed now we live in Australia. The other day Mum asked me what I wanted to do after school. She never asked me that in Africa. I probably would have just started earning money to support our family. I would not have had a choice.

ZAINA FLEES THE COUNTRY

When I was two years old, my family ran away from our native country of Congo where there were soldiers who were cruel to women and children. We moved to refugee camps in different countries where we lived for three to four years. We moved to Benin and I learned to speak French there. When I moved to Australia I had to learn English. Now I have learned five different languages. 

School used to be awful. Just to get to and from school was a two kilometer walk. The school hours were also different, sometimes there would be a big break in the day, so you would have to go home. On those days, we would walk four kilometres in the blistering hot sun. I was OK at school, so I avoided getting in a lot of trouble. In Africa you are punished severely when you make errors. But then I was made a Class Captain, which meant that I got punished when other students misbehaved. Sometimes the whole class would get beaten because one student had made a mistake. My brother was once beaten so terribly that he was badly bruised, especially on his neck. My father complained but after that our family was neglected by the teacher who refused to teach us. My father wanted a better life for his eight children. He never gave up.

Eventually we were accepted to come to Australia. My parents were always stressed before we moved here. Now they are more content and happy. A better education is the best thing about living in Australia. I was a very skinny grade eight girl when I started school. But the teachers smiled at me and I knew I didn’t need to be afraid. I love having teachers who will guide and help me. They care about me and what I do. I love having choices in my education and it is a privilege to have extra-curricular activities.