Mangok Deng, 28

I’m the president of a non-profit organisation for the South Sudanese community called Whetayoukyouk. We provide families with resources that they don’t have: food, language, help with Centrelink, interpreting, finding a job, filling in forms, a youth group. We have about 20 families, but the organisation is run by about five of us. I also work at KR Castlemaine.

I’ve been in Australia 15 years, in Castlemaine for seven. When I came to Australia I didn’t speak English. People from South Sudan came from many different countries before Australia, each time we had to adapt; learn a new language, learn a new culture, learn the law. It’s very difficult starting over again.

This is a nice place – quiet, not too busy. I had been in Sydney for eight years then I applied for work here and stayed. Then my family – my mum, my two sisters and my brother – came. My mum comes to White Nile group at Multicultural Services.

We are Dinka. One of the most important things in our culture is family. Coming together. We have big families. Music is important and dance and food too. We are friendly people.

I didn’t know anybody in Castlemaine; it was hard. Socialising was difficult. I didn’t know where to go or how to reach out. I had to adapt again. I went to the library and community house and talked with people and tried to learn. There were people on the street that would stare at me, like, ‘Where are you from?!” It was like they’d never seen a black person before. Days went by and people kept asking me – I felt like I needed to explain myself all the time.

That’s why we started Whetayoukyouk. We thought, ‘Wait a minute, we need all the community to come together, sit and communicate and get to know each other, interact with each other’. A way to help our community – with language, where to go for help or fun and to know other communities too; we don’t want to just know our community, we want to know other communities as well. We need to get involved and we need to learn and adapt.

Multicultural Services helps our community in general; what they do and what we do, and they had the same idea that we were talking about. They helped us apply for funds for our Independence Day celebration, helped plan and organise the day. We went to Chinese New Year. We DJed at Zinda Festival and we’re booked for next year’s festival too. We help each other. As the years have gone by Multicultural Services is like family to us too. This is what it’s all about, all cultures coming together at once, getting to know each other, embracing each other’s cultures and qualities.

I feel both Australian and South Sudanese. There’s always gonna be a feeling for me of where I came from. I’m Sudanese first, but I grew up here, so I’m Australian. The feeling’s there. But the issue is, you can feel it yourself, but you have to be accepted by others. If you don’t feel like you belong, then you start to question yourself. I feel like I belong, but it’s taken a long time.

Feeling like you belong depends on freedom and understanding. Multicultural Services is the only place people can come and see other cultures but we need a place that we can come and socialise together, tell stories, play music, learn other culture’s language, that’s very important to have a space to do that. It brings out the humanity in us.

Home is the foundation of what comes next. Everything we do as humans is to leave a legacy behind for the next generation. We gotta make sure our culture, our region, our city is in a better place than it was yesterday. We gotta come together as people and work together and move forward in the best way possible. It’s important that it starts at home for our children’s future.