Real Life

I teach refugees how to be Australian

It's the simplest of daily tasks – packing a lunch box for your child. But for thousands of Sudanese refugees in Australia, this and many other routine parental chores are incomprehensible.

Sharon Sandy with a woman named Samira on her recent trip to the Sudan.
Enter Sharon Sandy, who spent the past six years of her life helping refugee families in her hometown of Traralgon, in Victoria's Latrobe Valley, learn how to be Australian.
Sharon, a mum of four, met her first Sudanese family through her local primary school, where she works as a welfare officer.
Horrified and inspired by their tales of war and famine, Sharon started offering basic courses teaching the basics of life in the lucky country.
"I ran parenting classes, teaching mums and dads the basics; like how to pack a school bag in Australia," Sharon says. "It is simple task that we take for granted, but they had never done it before.
"I was so moved by their stories – these are people who had literally run for their lives – that I felt compelled to help them in their new country."
Sudanese refugees are now Victoria's fastest growing migrant population and Sharon soon had plenty of pupils.
As they got to know her, the kids started telling Sharon about life back home and before she knew it, Sharon had filled a book with their accounts.
"I was humbled by their stories: children who had seen their relatives murdered at point blank range, others who described being so starving they had no energy to cry, so I started to writing them down," Sharon says.
Sharon laminated and bound the books for her students, and they became so popular she looked to a Melbourne publisher for help.
What resulted is a beautiful picture book called Donkeys Can't Fly On Planes that is already onto its third print run.
"Kids Own Publishing were very good to us: an artist came and visited the kids at school to help them create pictures to really tell their story, and what has resulted is a truly beautiful book," Sharon says.
Sharon's labour of love has not ended with the book's publication, and instead of taking a break last Christmas holidays; she spent her money on a fact-finding mission to Sudan and Ethiopia.
"A couple of the Sudanese community wanted to give something back to the country they had left behind, and so we decided to fundraise to build an orphanage and school in the village of Bor in Sudan," Sharon says.
"Sudan was truly a hellhole. We ate nothing but rice for 6 days, and yet we knew we were the lucky ones. Decades of war and drought have ruined all the crops and they are desperately trying to start again," she explains.
The number of orphans in Sudan beggars belief – in the village of Bor, children outnumber adults two to one.
"We saw teenage children who had built a mud hut in an attempt to provide a classroom for younger kids – only to see it washed away in the wet season," Sharon says.
Sharon and the Bor Community and Education Project aim to use money from fundraisers and book sales to reinvigorate the local community.
When asked about her obvious passion for the project, Sharon is reluctant to take praise.
"It's just my thing to do," she says. "My kids are growing up, so I guess I was looking for some way of giving back.
"I just figure if everyone helped somewhere, just a little bit, the world would be a better place."
To donate to the Bor Community and Education Project, or to purchase a copy of Donkey's Can't Fly on Planes, click here.

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