“I want to the kind of person that fights for the weak, speaks for the voiceless.”
19 Year Old Priscilla Bul has lived here in Australia since she was a young girl, but spent most of her early life in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya – the largest refugee camp in the world – after her family fled South Sudan. She is beautifully eloquent and insightful, and having had the pleasure of meeting her at the New South Wales Refugee Week Launch in Wollongong, where she spoke, I asked her to answer a few of my questions.
Have a read and tell me if you don’t get goosebumps!
BF: How did you come to live here in Australia?
PB: My family left South Sudan because of the Second Sudanese Civil War when the fighting had made its way to our village. Not only were civilian casualties apparent, civilians were the main targets of the Sudanese army, so by the time my family fled, the soldiers were burning, looting and destroying our village.
We not only faced persecution from them, but internal differences among us saw our neighbours from the ethnic tribe – the Nuer also attacking us. All in all, there was a complete war zone in our very backyard, so for safety, my family left Sudan.
I never lived in South Sudan. I was born there whilst my family was fleeing to Kenya for Kakuma Refugee Camp.
As a whole, my childhood was a great time in my life, from my perspective. Although much of it was spent here in Australia, the years I spent in Africa never really seemed odd until I came here. Thankfully I had my youthful naivety and a very amazing family to blind me from the harsh realities of living in a refugee camp.
BF: How did your family cope with changing cultures?
PB: As a family, we all coped pretty well with the change of cultures, but it definitely had its difficulties. For me personally, being so young was such a blessing as I was easily able to learn English, make friends and adapt to new cultural norms.
I guess, one could also call it a curse as I am unable to fluently read or write in my mother tongue, but the ease it takes kids to pick things up is a coping mechanism in itself.
My older siblings and mum clearly suffered with coming to terms with the changes, but the wonderful environment we were placed in here in Wollongong allowed them to carefully learn to adapt and adopt the changes whilst keeping aspects of our culture intact.
BF: What are your ambitions for the future?
PB: At this point of my life, my ambitions for the future are simple.
I am striving to live the life my mum envisioned for us as she made the tough decisions to bring here on her own.
As a widower, my mum has had to sacrifice a lot for my sake, so my greatest ambitions are about bringing her hopes to life. We were blessed to be brought to Australia with an abundance of opportunities, so the least I can do is take them on.
Whilst I work on setting myself up for a comfortable life and provide for my family, my heart is also on my countrymen and the herds of refugees currently being subjected to the life we once faced.
In saying that, one of my other ambitions is to look for a career in that area to use my unique perspective to help those I can also live the lives they dream of.
The reality of living in a refugee camp is grime as hope for a better seems to get further and further away each day.
If I can, I want to bring that hope into something tangible for people to fight for day by day.
I want to the kind of person that fights for the weak, speaks for the voiceless.
Whether that happens here in Australia or in a refugee camp somewhere in the world, I’d love to see myself restoring hope like it was once done to us. Whether this happens or not, I do not know, but as of today, I’m adamant of making this a reality.
BF: What makes you happy?
PB: As strange as it may sound, life makes me happy.
I believe that we’re too quick to jump to conclusions feigning sadness to the step backs we encounter. Life isn’t meant to be lived in oblivious bubbles of bliss, ignorant to the perils it provides. It is indeed easy to find happiness in everything if one clings onto the love of friendships, family and perseverance for a better day, week, month and year.
For every moment of darkness we face, there are brighter memories awaiting us. I guess, I know that there is so much more to be thankful for than complain about.
BF: What is challenging for you?
PB: Personally, I struggle a lot with letting my internal thoughts out for ears to hear. It’s almost this fear of knowing that once the words are spoken, failure is lurking in the background to see them not come true.
I am of the mindset that a person’s integrity is the most important thing to keep intact compared to anything else. In saying that, I am guarded by my fears of ruining my integrity because a promise I make doesn’t fall through; a goal I’ve set isn’t reach and so forth. Whilst it may seem like a trivial thing to worry about, I believe it all traces back to one’s character, soul and heart.
BF: Would you like to return to your birthplace?
PB: I have returned to South Sudan and would definitely do so again. Whilst it is not the place I have called home for many years of my life, there is a love for it that I cannot deny.
Australia is great, but the history and mystery South Sudan is filled with will most definitely see me return one day – to work or for frequent visits, I do not know. Hopefully it will be safe enough to visit like it was when I went for the Christmas of 2012.
BF: What is the best and worst about Australia as a country and culture?
PB: The best thing about Australians and Australia in general is the openness to which individuals are accepted by society from all walks of life.
Whilst there are cases of negativity, on the whole, I love the culture of everyone having ‘a fair go’.
The focus I would say here is allowing individuals to make the most of their lives on an even playing field.
I love the fact that a person’s gender, race, class and etc. are seen as irrelevant in the eyes of the law.
The government’s support of welfare programs embodies this culture of a fair nation that helps all, especially in situations of misfortunes.
The worst thing about Australia isn’t really something Australia bares alone. It’s a flaw in human nature that continues to inhibit us from moving forward as one and not repeats the mistakes of the past. Whilst Australia is a multicultural pot for individuals from around the world, the string of global events and stigma being associated to accepting new people is appalling.
Whilst it is understandable that a nation cannot take in large numbers of people and adequately accommodate them, the media stance is really poisoning the minds of regular Australian.
I feel as though we’re letting in the apprehension most of the world’s counties have, which in turn is destroying the Australian culture of giving everyone a ‘fair’ say and go.
BF: Do you have a message for politicians?
PB: My message for politicians in general is simple. If it is not for greed or selfish reasons one joins politics then it is with a vision to better their community and society as a whole.
I understand the difficulty of bringing change about through the bureaucracy of the system is what leads to the break down of visions, but let it never undermine your integrity as a person.
There is power in the people, and losing touch with the everyday needs, in looking at a greater vision never ends well. History can attest to that.
A well oiled machine will not and cannot operate even if the smallest piece is missing. Politicians, whilst wrapped in bureaucracy, rules and regulations is at the core a system for the needs of the masses to be heard and improved.
On a global stage, we need to go back to the human side of things, instead of pitching grand ideas and issues as being detached from it all.