Nene Manasseh

Picture of Nene Manasseh

Nene doesn’t really remember much of her life in South Sudan. Most of her childhood was spent living in a Refugee Camp.

"I was born in 1991 in Torit, South Sudan and spent the first three months of my life there. I am one of six children and my family were happy living in Torit, but then the civil war began," Nene said.

"My family was forced to flee Torit. My dad was a solider in the Army and my mum moved us from town to town for many years trying to find safety. During this time two of my siblings and my uncle were separated from us. They went to Khartoum; I never saw them again after that. My father was captured during this time and taken to prison where we are told he later passed away".

"My mother was unable to find anywhere safe for us in South Sudan to live permanently, so when I was four years old we moved to a refugee camp in Kenya".

"Life in the camp was very hard. We relied on rationed food drops from the United Nations each fortnight we had to make last. My mum did some work in the camp as a cleaner and a cook to make some extra income to support our family," said Nene.

"While we had little food we also witnessed terrible things including killings and assaults in the camp. Many locals did not approve of the camp on their land so they would ask us for our food. Anyone who said no was killed".

"While in the camp we did the best we could as children to have fun. I would play with my friends and fetch water and fire wood to help pass the time".

"We hoped we wouldn’t be in the camp for long, but the years passed and we were there for 10 years. We watched people die from the violence inflicted by others, while many died of starvation and hunger".

In May 2015 Nene, her mother and two brothers were granted visas through the Humanitarian Programme. 

"When we received the news that we would be moving to Australia we were very happy. My mum had given up hope and we thought we would be in the camp for the rest of our lives," Nene said.

"It all happened very quickly. Officials from the International Organisation for Migration came to the camp and conducted a two day orientation with us about what life in Australia would be like and a month later we were in Australia".

"I was 14 when we arrived in Australia; I remember being so excited and felt a real sense of safety. I knew we would no longer be hearing gun shots or witnessing people die".

Once landing in Australia Nene and her family settled in right away. Nene’s mother began studying English at TAFE and Nene and her brothers enrolled in high school.

"My greatest memory of resettling in Australia was learning the basic things that many take for granted. Such as learning how to use a microwave, I remember it clearly the first time I used one," Nene said.

After completing Year 12 Nene went on to complete a certificate three in Community Services. She then completed an Arts degree with a major in Sociology and Gender Studies.

In 2008 while studying Nene shared her story with her class mates. She told them what she had to go through in South Sudan and Kenya and of her difficulty of fitting into Australia due to racism.

"When I told my class this story, two others in my class shared similar stories. We then decided to start a program dedicated to breaking down social and racial barriers called Students against Racism (SAR). I am very proud of our work. Nine years on we have all graduated but we are still sharing our story. We have delivered over 150 SAR workshops to over 10,000 participants including with Tasmanian Police, schools and businesses," Nene said.

In 2015 Nene finished her degree and began working at the Hobart Womens’ Shelter helping women and children to recover from the effects of having lived with domestic violence. Nene makes a real difference as a case worker to the women at the shelter.

"My dream for the future would be to complete my Masters, continue to share the message about racism through SARs and continue to help those in the womens’ shelter. My dream has always really been to help those in need. I’d also like to one day help others who have come through refugee camps to resettle in Australia," Nene said.

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