Mary was born in Ethiopia after her parents escaped Sudan and travelled to Ethiopia. She grew up in a small village with her family but, due to drought and famine, at 14 she and her brother left to live in a refugee camp. Mary lived in the camp for four years, and during this time she met her husband. In 2004, they travelled back to Sudan where they stayed for some time until civil war made it too dangerous to stay, so they left for Cairo in search of a safer life. Life was very difficult in Cairo because they had no money. Mary and her husband found themselves living in a one-bedroom house with five other families who supported them. She describes this as the way of life for Sudanese people, helping each other out when someone doesn’t have food or a place to live. It was not easy during this time because Mary could not speak Arabic so it was very difficult to find work. After living in Egypt for almost a year she was given the opportunity to come to Australia as a refugee.

Mary and her husband arrived in Melbourne in 2006, and at the suggestion of a friend they came to Ballarat to live. She had never heard of Ballarat but now has found a new life here and is very happy. Mary has a steady job at the Federation University SMB Childcare Centre and is feeling settled with her family. The journey started with studying English in 2006, but then she had a year off before returning to English classes in 2008. In 2010, she started part-time study in the Certificate III in Children’s Services because she really wanted to work with children.  At first it was very difficult, but with the support of the teachers, including her English teacher, she was able to get through her studies.

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Mary’s new life in Australia is a good one compared to the one she left behind. She has a real sense of belonging now and sees her life with a new confidence. This life includes new friendships and working at Federation University where her co-workers are very supportive. Life does not seem difficult anymore and her hope now is that her children will gain a good education, something she missed out on in her early life. Mary is very optimistic — she believes it is never too late and wants others to believe this as well. When she arrived in Australia she did not speak English but since arriving here has had the opportunity to learn English and to find work.

Words by Mee-Ling Doon
Photography by Timothy Kirkham