Akuot Wundit’s first memories are of the Kenyan refugee camp her family fled to from their war-torn home in South Sudan. She was nine months old.
Twenty-three years later she lives in Shepparton with her mother and four brothers, studying a Bachelor of Nursing at La Trobe University.
She is also working full-time at St Paul’s African House, Shepparton, as the senior co-ordinator of African Focus — a government-funded survey looking at how to improve the relationship between the African and broader Greater Shepparton communities — which is about to begin.
“I look at my history of where we came from and what my parents had to go through just to get us here and I realised I’m in a better place than my parents to help other people, why shouldn’t I?”
Akuot’s father Wundit Madut Ring never made it to Australia. He chose not to move with his family, but rather support those he believed needed him more, returning to Kuac Madut Ring to support the people living there as the Paramount Chief.
“My dad pretty much gave up his whole life to serve people who are less fortunate than him, to serve people who he felt needed him and his help,” Akuot said. “Paramount Chiefs are the traditional leaders of the village and act as a bridge between the people and the government, advocating for both.”
The first Paramount Chief of the village, Wundit served for 33 years and died in 2018. “He was a compassionate, generous man and had good moral values,” his daughter said. “He was also a cultural and traditional dictionary. He knew the history of our region and the country well.
“He stayed behind because he wanted to actually help bring change.” Sadly, Wundit died before Akuot could see him again. “Because our country is so poverty-stricken, it’s very hard for regions not to have people like my dad helping and co-ordinating everything all the time,” she said.
Determined to follow in her father’s generous footsteps, Akuot is hoping to fundraise enough money to build a high school in the village. “My family is deeply rooted and with my dad being Paramount Chief there, a lot of kids still miss him and don’t have help anymore like they used to, and I just want to continue what he used to do,” she said.
“My main goal is to encourage free education and a safe environment for kids to learn in, an environment that encourages their dreams and reminds them people care. “And everyone who donates, I want the kids to know who they are, that they heard their story, because it’s not just my story but also the story of the unheard people in South Sudan.”
Following a rebel attack on the village, Akuot last year raised about $2500 within the African community in Greater Shepparton to help support the village. She’s planning to open the latest fundraiser up to the broader community in the hope of encouraging more young people to get involved.
“I’m not saying they need to care just about what I’m doing, but to also care about their communities in Australia,” she said. “I want to encourage young people to know that just because they’re young doesn’t mean they can’t help other people, or that just because you have everything doesn’t mean everybody does.”
For more information on how you can support Akuot’s fundraiser, email her at email@example.com