Augk Tong remembers a childhood full of fun and dancing. When tragedy struck, she fled to Khartoum where later she married a good man. Forced to flee again, Augk went to Egypt before arriving in Australia in 2003 with her family. A decade on, she has mastered English and driving and is a valued member of the choir.
Can you tell me a little about your background?
I am from a village near Aweil in South Sudan. I am Dinka.
Did you go to school?
No. There was no school. My brothers didn’t go to school either. In my culture, girls stay home and do the cleaning and cooking. When you are about eight years old, you learn to cook. You cook for the whole family.
'I want to thank all the volunteers that come to St Bakhita’s to help us. We don’t have money to pay them. God bless Australian people who help us.'
What was life like in South Sudan when you were a girl?
Everybody was very happy. We had fun. We had dancing groups and we would go to parties with my Mum. My father was a very good farmer. We had a lot of cows and a lot of sheep.
Did you go to church on the weekend?
We didn’t have a church in the village but we believed in God. When we went to Khartoum, we started to go to church, to the big cathedral. I love singing and dancing. I sing in the church.
What happened when the Second Civil War started?
The war was very bad. There was trouble with the Muslim Arab people from Khartoum. They come and take all the sheep and all the cows.
My Dad had a big cow and he said, 'Don’t take my cow'.
And one man shot my Dad.
Then my Mum ran to cover my Dad, crying, 'Don’t shoot, don’t shoot'.
Then the Arabs shot my Mum as well.
We ran away and I did not know where my brother went. He was only small.
I ran to Khartoum with my Mum’s brother.
I lost my parents in 1984.
How long did it take you to get to Khartoum with your uncle?
It took a long time. We walked. We didn’t have food. We didn’t have water.
We slept in the day. We hid in the bushes.
Where did you live in Khartoum?
We lived in Klugla, a camp. I met my husband in Khartoum. He was a businessman.
He sold dry fish, cameras and calculators. My husband married me in 1986. My husband is very good.
What was life like in Khartoum?
Life was difficult in Khartoum because the government didn’t want the church or for black people to have money.
At night, black people were killed. People died every day. If you asked why, they would kill you.
Sometimes, we were afraid to go out and we would say, 'Maybe it is better to die here'.
We prayed to God to help us so that we don't worry about where we die.
Why did you leave Khartoum?
My husband used to go to Myom-mai to buy dry fish to sell.
One night in Khartoum, the security forces came and knocked on the door.
They didn’t have uniforms.
They asked, 'Where is your husband?'
I said he has gone to Myom-mai.
But they didn’t believe me so they took me and put me in gaol.
Someone close to my husband came and paid money to get me out.
He took me to the church to ask Father for help.
Father and someone close to my husband sent me to Cairo. I had six kids with me.
Did you know where your husband was?
I lived there for a year and a half.
Then my husband’s brother called me and said, 'I have found your husband'.
Father went to Myom-mai and made the process for my husband to come to me.
Was life better in Egypt?
Cairo was better because I was working as a cleaner. Some men were working in restaurants.
But the money was not enough.
Sometimes I had trouble on the street.
Egyptian people would say, 'ongo bungo'. It means 'man monkey'.
When you went out, you were a bit worried because you didn’t know what could happen to you.
Every day we had a bit of trouble but sometimes people would come to help you, even fight for you.
Some Egyptians would say, 'Why do you have trouble her?' or 'What kind of things did you say to her?'
How did you come to Australia?
I prayed to God and maybe my Mum and Dad looked after me because I went to the UNHCR and made the process and they picked me to come here to Australia.
Before I was very sad but when I came to Australia, I am very happy.
What were your first days in Australia like?
When we came to Australia, the whole family, we didn't know English.
We started here with the ‘ABC’ because we had not been to school. We started English classes.
I also didn’t know about money. I went to the grocery store and I put coins. Everyone was laughing at me.
The government gave us one man and one woman to help with Medicare, Centrelink and finding a house.
Tresa helped with the food, the uniforms for the kids and put the kids in school.
How did your children adjust to life in Australia?
It was hard for my older children. The government put the children in a class for their age but they were very confused. It was very hard for them. The kids were very angry and had problems with bullies. But my kids are good now. They have had an education here.
Tell me about the Legion of Mary?
I started going to the Legion of Mary in Khartoum. The Legion of Mary is important to me because I believe in God.
If something bad happens to me, I pray to God.
I became a leader of the Legion of Mary in Cairo in 2001.
There were five groups. I would go every night from Monday to Friday. We prayed every day.
We visited sick people in hospital to pray. If anyone died, we would go to church to pray.
In Cairo, we also collected money and I would take it to the poor.
Do you still go to the Legion of Mary?
In Australia, it is different because everyone is busy and we live in different areas.
One Legion of Mary group prays on Wednesday, another on Thursday.
We meet at different houses and on Sunday, we go to church.
We pray for people who have problems or who are sick.
We pray for people in Syria and Iraq and South Sudan.
The Legion of Mary is good for everything. I love it.
When did you first come to St Bakhita’s?
I first came to St Bakhita’s to learn English. Before I came here, I couldn’t talk English or read.
Now I am talking English and I am reading. I get very good when I come here.
I have tried everything at St Bakhita’s. On Tuesday I have Bible Studies, on Wednesday I have English class, on Thursday I have sewing and on Friday I have English again. I am very happy at St Bakhita’s.
God bless Sister Maria. She has a big heart for the Sudanese people.
Has St Bakhita Centre made a big difference to your life here?
Yes. It is very important for the Sudanese, especially the women. The women like to come to learn English.
The women love to learn writing. We need more learning and to know everything.
I want to thank all the volunteers that come to St Bakhita’s to help us.
We don’t have money to pay the volunteers.
God bless Australian people who help us.
When you think back to 2003, could you have imagined that you would know how to use money, how to speak English, how to drive?
I am very proud. I am driving. I know every way. I read the signs. I know all of Australia.
I went to Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth. I am very glad.
Has God been with you?
God has always been with me. He has helped me a lot.
I am very grateful to God for my life although it has been very bad.
God has given me Australia. I always have to thank God.
How do you feel about what is happening now in South Sudan?
Now I am sad when I see my country. We have a separate country, South Sudan but rebel people fight.
They kill little kids and women. Last week, my brother was killed.