Illusions of Me

Many young Africans are struggling with racism and hostility while living in a city like Melbourne. ‘Illusions of Me’ is a personal project I am currently working on that aims to break the false images and impressions certain politicians and news agencies may instil to the public through their words and articles. Africans and Muslims are often portrayed as violent, dangerous and responsible for the city’s crimes, encouraging the public to be fearful of them, especially the presence of African ‘gangs’.

In this image is Haney, a 17 year old who came to Australia with his family from Sudan almost 10 years ago. I spoke to him at the anti-racism protest held in Melbourne last Saturday on November 10, the day after the Bourke Street tragedy where a Somalian man set a car on fire and stabbed 3 people with a knife. “The media is quick to label an African man a terrorist,” he said, “when a white man commits a crime like this, like the one in California, when a veteran shot and killed 12 people at the Borderline Bar, they didn’t call him a terrorist. They labelled him as someone who is suffering from a mental illness and needed help. It’s very unfair. This Keffiyeh I am wearing today, it is in support of all my Muslim brothers and sisters suffering injustice.”

I asked him what his ambitions were for the future –“I want to go university and study law so I could work in social injustice. Equality in the world is very important to me. In my family, I am the only boy with 3 sisters, I have to stand up for them.” Young and optimistic, Haney is baffled at how much discrimination and hatred someone can show just based on their skin colour. “There must be other underlying reasons”, he remarked.

 Chiwilly’s philosophy in life is to be happy and do good in life, to try your best to make your loved ones happy and be grateful no matter what you have.  “I almost cried when I got a job as a receptionist at Monash Hospital. I was very grateful that they didn’t discriminate against me and gave me a chance. I made sure that I am working as hard as I could.”  What struck me the most about Chiwilly is his humility and his genuine positivity. His smile was extremely contagious. “I wish people would see me as a good person. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I try my best to change the lives of those around me for the better. I tell some of my friends to try to live a good life and help their families – but it is up to them to help themselves, I do my part. Recently I had a talk with someone I met on the street. I encouraged him to get a job and do his part in bettering his life. A couple of months later, he told me that he has successfully got a job! He wanted to take me out to dinner to thank me, but really to be able to help like this is the biggest reward.”  For him, life has not been easy. His father passed when he was really young but he remains an important inspiration in his life. “My father told me that it’s important to have a dream and to have a plan for that dream. Mine is to save enough to study accounting, then start an accounting business in my father’s name. I want people back home to remember him. He was a doctor back in South Sudan and it was his dream to save others.”  “My brother and sister are still back in South Sudan at the moment. We haven’t seen each other in 20 years. Sometimes we would talk on the phone, and my sister would cry and then I would start crying too”. Hoping that his family would be reunited someday, he says he is going to try his best to pursue his dreams and enjoy the simple things.

Chiwilly’s philosophy in life is to be happy and do good in life, to try your best to make your loved ones happy and be grateful no matter what you have.

“I almost cried when I got a job as a receptionist at Monash Hospital. I was very grateful that they didn’t discriminate against me and gave me a chance. I made sure that I am working as hard as I could.”

What struck me the most about Chiwilly is his humility and his genuine positivity. His smile was extremely contagious. “I wish people would see me as a good person. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I try my best to change the lives of those around me for the better. I tell some of my friends to try to live a good life and help their families – but it is up to them to help themselves, I do my part. Recently I had a talk with someone I met on the street. I encouraged him to get a job and do his part in bettering his life. A couple of months later, he told me that he has successfully got a job! He wanted to take me out to dinner to thank me, but really to be able to help like this is the biggest reward.”

For him, life has not been easy. His father passed when he was really young but he remains an important inspiration in his life. “My father told me that it’s important to have a dream and to have a plan for that dream. Mine is to save enough to study accounting, then start an accounting business in my father’s name. I want people back home to remember him. He was a doctor back in South Sudan and it was his dream to save others.”

“My brother and sister are still back in South Sudan at the moment. We haven’t seen each other in 20 years. Sometimes we would talk on the phone, and my sister would cry and then I would start crying too”. Hoping that his family would be reunited someday, he says he is going to try his best to pursue his dreams and enjoy the simple things.

 29-year-old Torit Chol Bol hopes for compassion, unity and equality in the world. ‘What makes us human is what we feel in our hearts. When we see a homeless person, it is what is in our hearts, and our compassion that makes us go and help that person. We see people as people, and it is not based on the colour of their skin.’  Chol Bol told me about his experiences in jail, and how his time there have changed his life. Currently working in construction, he works hard to find his feet, helping his mum and his younger sisters, and in guiding other youth in the area. ‘Many young people here, they don’t have a father figure to guide them. I lost my father back in South Sudan - he died in the war. So nowadays, I look out for the young ones on the streets and I try to be a positive influence for them.’  Through chatting and having a stroll with him through his neighbourhood, his resilience and his compassion really shines through. Seemingly stoic on the outside, he speaks with incredible warmth and honesty. ‘I really love to express myself through music,’ he says, ‘I’m going to title my next album ‘unbroken’. When you have been where I am, people try to break you. I must remain strong, and not let that happen’.

29-year-old Torit Chol Bol hopes for compassion, unity and equality in the world. ‘What makes us human is what we feel in our hearts. When we see a homeless person, it is what is in our hearts, and our compassion that makes us go and help that person. We see people as people, and it is not based on the colour of their skin.’

Chol Bol told me about his experiences in jail, and how his time there have changed his life. Currently working in construction, he works hard to find his feet, helping his mum and his younger sisters, and in guiding other youth in the area. ‘Many young people here, they don’t have a father figure to guide them. I lost my father back in South Sudan - he died in the war. So nowadays, I look out for the young ones on the streets and I try to be a positive influence for them.’

Through chatting and having a stroll with him through his neighbourhood, his resilience and his compassion really shines through. Seemingly stoic on the outside, he speaks with incredible warmth and honesty. ‘I really love to express myself through music,’ he says, ‘I’m going to title my next album ‘unbroken’. When you have been where I am, people try to break you. I must remain strong, and not let that happen’.

 Chol Bol with his buddies Jay and Pablo.

Chol Bol with his buddies Jay and Pablo.

 Lydia’s father passed away when she was young. Her mother works as Managing Director at the South Sudan Water Corporation, which aims to distribute water to all parts of South Sudan. ‘I want to be like my mother, I want to make a positive difference to people’s lives back in South Sudan.’  Currently studying anthropology, Lydia tells me that her high school life has been challenging. ‘I really hope one day we can have freedom without judgement, and be treated the same way like everyone else. My ambition is to do volunteering or an internship with UN Women as I am very passionate about women issues. I want to fight for respect and equality.’

Lydia’s father passed away when she was young. Her mother works as Managing Director at the South Sudan Water Corporation, which aims to distribute water to all parts of South Sudan. ‘I want to be like my mother, I want to make a positive difference to people’s lives back in South Sudan.’

Currently studying anthropology, Lydia tells me that her high school life has been challenging. ‘I really hope one day we can have freedom without judgement, and be treated the same way like everyone else. My ambition is to do volunteering or an internship with UN Women as I am very passionate about women issues. I want to fight for respect and equality.’

More to come.