Imagine arriving in Sudan without a single word of Arabic, Swahili or Dinka… and trying to start a new life.

Imagine the stress of making sure your children are safe, happy, comfortable and receiving the best education – and not being able to communicate with the teachers at your local school.

Imagine the overwhelming feelings of isolation.

These are just some of the things Sudanese from refugee and migrant backgrounds face when they first arrive in Australia.

Most Sudanese refugees who settle in Australia come from South Sudan, where less than 30 per cent of children who start grade 1 end up reaching grade 5. With overwhelming dropouts, only two per cent complete primary school.

As a result, adult literacy levels are some of the lowest in the world – according to Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina only 32 per cent of South Sudanese over the age of 15 are literate (and only 12 per cent of women).

This can be a serious challenge for the Sudanese community in Australia, as many families from Sudan are headed by single mums.

What does this mean for Young Sudanese Refugees?

Before arriving in Australia, most young refugees:

  • have only received very limited and interrupted education;
  • have no English language skills;
  • and come with the trauma of their refugee experience.

It’s likely that not only will their mothers and fathers not speak English – but there is little chance their parents will be literate in any language.

Only two per cent of children in South Sudan complete primary school

The Anglican Sudanese Engagement Project

Andrew’s Farm, a suburb in Adelaide’s north, is home to one of the state’s largest Sudanese communities, with many children attending the local school, St Columba College.

Previously, language barriers have meant that the school was unable to contact parents and engage them in their children’s life at school.

Parents were left feeling disconnected, with issues happening at both home and school triggering a challenging environment for the students.

Students at St Columba College junior school

In identifying these issues, the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide and St Columba College reached out to AnglicareSA to drive change.

And for the last four years, AnglicareSA’s Anglican Sudanese Engagement Project has supported parents to build confidence and a stronger connection with their children’s life at the college.

The project, which ran from 2014 to 2018, was joint-funded by the three-way partnership, with Sudanese community leader, David Amol employed to lead the project and develop a school-based service for students and their parents.

David is also leader of a local Anglican Sudanese congregation in Elizabeth and is a well-known personality in the Playford area.

Sudanese community leader, David Amol

 “People who really understand each other, are there for each other as friends, and work together – that is something that you really need.”

David Amol

AnglicareSA Principal Multicultural Services, Mary Awata said the Anglican Sudanese Engagement Project has had substantive contact with 165 Sudanese students and a further 44 students from other parts of Africa.

“Due to language barriers and other issues at home, parents are vulnerable to being disconnected from students and their schooling – in many cases families were uncontactable,” she said.

“David, with his deep understanding of the community, has been a vital bridge between the school, students and parents, which has seen the school culture, environment and student performance significantly improve.”

AnglicareSA has teamed up with the Adelaide Crows to help families at St Columba feel more included in their Australian community

The project has seen St Columba College establish a cultural diversity and inclusion team, which has identified a range of issues including the need to cater more specifically for Sudanese girls and women.

Parents have become involved in school strategies and volunteering, and have been provided spaces for group meetings at the school.

Connecting More and More Families

AnglicareSA has also recently established the Family Connect program to continue its work with St Columba College, with a particular focus on supporting mothers from a refugee background.

Family Connect program worker, Mwajemi Hussein, who herself arrived in Australia 14 years ago with no English, works with mothers facing the same struggles from her lived experience.

“We run workshops, do home visits, help with appointments and link families to schools. The biggest challenge for them is getting familiar with the new system and lifestyle. It can be hard for them to go out and connect, especially when their English is limited.”

Mwajemi Hussein
AnglicareSA Family Connect worker, Mwajemi

The Sudanese Engagement Project has sparked interest from other Adelaide Anglican and Catholic colleges looking to ramp up their engagement with the increasing culturally and linguistically diverse community in Adelaide.

A network of Playford schools led by St Columba College have developed a diversity strategy to progress multiculturalism and inclusion.

On the back of the successful project’s conclusion, David has taken on a new position as Sudanese Family Liaison Officer at the school, where he will continue to guide African students and their families.