Story by Ashley Fritch, originally published on La Trobe University website, 2009. LINK
It took Clement Deng three months to walk across Sudan to reach Ethiopia. He survived militia gunfire, wild animal attacks, and near starvation to flee his country in hope of a better life.
More than twenty years later, Clement is graduating from La Trobe University. On Friday, he will be saying thanks to the Australian people for helping him get here, at a celebration with traditional Sudanese singing and dancing.
Clement is one of the 30,000 ‘Sudanese Lost Boys’ who were forced to flee their homes and families in the 1980s, during Sudan’s second civil war.
These ‘Lost Boys’ (named by aid workers, after the fictional characters in Peter Pan) walked for months on end to reach refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. They barely survived the journey. Some boys came to Australia as refugees, and some went on to study at University.
Clement says the celebration is a chance to thank the Australian people, and the government, for allowing him the opportunity to get an education.
This celebration, paired with his story of survival, marks the end of a long journey of personal achievement and the beginning of another.
Later this year, Clement will receive a degree in International Development and hopes it will help him to bring about change.
‘What continually inspired me to continue my education was the belief that I could contribute more to building Southern Sudan with an education,” he says.
“I hope for the day when Sudan becomes a place where men, women and children will not be subjected to what I was during my childhood.’
During his time in Australia, Clement has had to put aside his emotional scars to adjust to a new way of life.
‘I found it difficult adjusting to academic study in Australia. I had to learn how to use a computer from scratch and referencing essays was a challenge. Sometimes it was even hard to understand lecturer’s accents.’
Clement was 28 when he arrived in Australia, and now lives in Glenroy where he works at Coles Supermarket on the weekends. While here, Clement has been an active member in his community, helping tutor those with little or no English and getting them information about health services and settling in Australia.
Clement was also invited to speak at the Press Council, in Sydney, about the unfair way Sudanese people were being presented in the media.
Around 35 other Sudanese Lost Boys have graduated from Australian universities over the years, and the Forum also celebrates their success.
The Hon. Jenny Macklin, Federal Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, will be speaking at the event, and there will also be time for a question and answer session with the Sudanese graduates.
As well as a light lunch, and traditional Sudanese singing and dancing, a short documentary, The Lost Boys of Sudan: The Journey from Refugee to Graduate, will be screened. The documentary is produced by Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Centre staff, Suzanne Fegan and Kate Lumley.
The forum is on this Friday, at the John Scott Meeting House, between 1pm and 4pm.