LUKE Henriques-Gomes speaks exclusively to Victor Victor about his community work and growing up as a migrant in Australia.
In April, we told you about Site Guide, a flashmob made up of young people from migrant, refugee and Melbourne born backgrounds. One of the people involved was Australian Sudanese youth leader, Victor Victor, whom you may have seen recently on ABC’s Q&A.
Victor Victor may not be an international student, but he came to Australia for the same reason: a better education.
Before moving here at the age of 11, Victor lived in Sudan. He could hardly read or write and had never been to school. After his parents divorced, Victor’s family moved to what he calls, “a poorer part of Sudan”.
He recalls his mother’s decision to move the family to Australia.
“We were really lucky, my mother asked the lady from the UN which was the best country for education – she said Australia.”
Arriving in Springvale, a vibrant suburb in Melbourne’s south east, Victor says Australia was nothing like he expected.
“I was really surprised, I thought I was just going to see white people. I never knew Australia was this multicultural,” he says.
Victor says one of the first challenges for his family was using public transport.
“We didn’t know how to use transport and we didn’t know where the train station was,” he says.
“So for approximately two weeks when I was going to school – me and my sister and little brother – we were walking from Springvale to Noble Park English Language Centre (around four kilometres).
“We had a social worker who showed my mum Centrelink, the bank, the stores, and that was about it. So everything else I had to figure out for myself and my family as well.”
In 2005, now living in Noble Park, Victor went off to high school. After a few years at high school, life for Victor and other Sudanese in Melbourne, began to change dramatically.
“In 2007, one of the Sudanese guys I knew passed away. Some guys beat him up,” he says.
Around the same time, Victor’s mother lost her job and was struggling to find another one. He remembers people saying the Sudanese couldn’t fit into Australian society.
“Walking down the street I used to get words thrown at me, abuse and stuff like that. It was difficult. Not just for me, but for a lot of Sudanese,” he says.
Victor says his mother believed they had no choice but to move away from the area.
“My mum was really scared that something would happen to us at Noble Park station,” Victor says.
But moving to Werribee, in Melbourne’s West, Victor was soon caught up in the wrong crowd.
“I was following the wrong footsteps,” he says.
“People knew the reputation of Noble Park. I started getting into fights. I wanted to be part of a gang. So I could be respected.”
The turning point Victor says, was a meeting with his mother, the school’s principal and the police. Victor thought he would be expelled.
“I realised I am better than that, and I was just disappointing everyone. My purpose for coming here was to get a better education and to go to school and learn,” he says.
Victor’s first step into community work was becoming a peer support mentor, helping young students adapt to high school. He eventually became school vice-captain.
“I had been heading down the wrong path, but no one assisted me in any way. There was no role-model, there was no one there for me to look up to,” Victor says.
“One day I realised I want to be that person. If there’s someone falling into the same trap I was falling in, I could support that person,” he says.
These days, Victor is a busy young man.
He has moved back to Noble Park, and earlier in the year was awarded the City of Greater Dandenong’s Young Achiever award. His CV extends from government advisory work to performing hip hop.
Victor is a member of the Multi-faith Multicultural Youth Network, and last year he was involved in consultation with the State Government, to tackle the problems that face young African Australians.
He’s also a volunteer tutor at SAIL, an organisation that helps young African people with their homework.
Then, there’s his work in the arts.
He works with Footprints, which helps young migrants engage with music and performance by teaching them things like stage and music production.
He regularly hosts music events and MC forums. He performs with hip hop group Esenadus Squad (Esenadus is Sudanese backwards).
And he mentors mentors the young people involved with Site Guide, a flashmob organised by St Martins Youth Arts Centre, together with artist group One Step At A Time Like This, Noble Park English Language School, and the City of Melbourne. He contributes artistically, and acts as an older brother figure for many of the dancers from refugee backgrounds.
Victor was also on the ABC’s Q&A program when it visited Dandenong this year, but says at first, he was reluctant to be involved.
“I didn’t know what Q&A was. Then I went online and I looked at the panellists and I was like, nah this isn’t for me,” he says.
“But I felt a sense of responsibility (to go on the show), because I’m a community person and it was in Dandenong.”
Victor Victor’s list of achievements will no doubt continue to grow in the future as he continues to help people of diverse backgrounds settle and flourish here in Australia.
What has your experience been like engaging with the Australian community? Share with us in the comments section below.