is a Chief Executive Officer at Diversity Focus and a current Ph.D. candidate and her thesis is, titled ‘Conceptualising Domestic and Family Violence in the Frame of Collectivist Cultures,’ in Australia. Thank you, Elizabeth for sharing your wonderful journey with our youth. I hope many find inspiration in your truth and start their own paths.
My name is Ayom. As far as I am aware, it means something to the effect of “pleasing to the heart” in the Dinka language. This is according to my aunt who wasn’t one hundred percent sure. It’s an old name that was inherited from our great grandmothers.
I would describe my upbringing as joyful despite the instability of moving countries twice at key stages of my childhood, first from Sudan (Khartoum) where I was born and to Egypt at the age of six-years-old and secondly from Egypt to Australia at the age of ten-years-old. Living in Sudan, I had a great childhood. I have fond but few memories of my primary schooling. When we moved to Egypt in 1994, we struggled to settle. It was a huge culture shock being a very different society in terms of language, culture and religion. Even though I spoke Arabic, it was a little different.
The most confronting aspect of living in Egypt was the daily experiences of overt racism that I experienced growing up. Despite this, I have fond memories of my childhood because I went to a predominantly South Sudanese school where all my siblings and many relatives and community members also attended. My childhood in Australia was also peaceful but I was also confronted with a lot of change, not only in terms of being a visible racial minority but the huge cultural differences, the language, the society and it’s systems etc.
A part of the struggle was also the family struggle to settle, make ends meet and try and make some sense of the new environment. These family challenges also naturally impacted me. My educational journey started in Sudan when I attended primary school and this continued in Egypt. When we moved to Australia, I also continued to go to primary school, high school and eventually university.
I am currently a Ph.D. candidate and my thesis, titled ‘Conceptualising Domestic and Family Violence in the Frame of Collectivist Cultures’ is aiming to develop an alternative conceptual framework to domestic and family violence than that which currently exists. It’s a topic I am deeply passionate about and believe is an important one especially in the context of people such as South Sudanese, among many other collective groups, who live in countries whose systems are based on the individual cultural paradigm. Our understanding and experience of ‘family’ can be so different and when violence and abuse take place, the nature in which it takes place can also be very different but people’s experiences are understood and addressed (or attempted to) through looking at them from a complete difference lens.
I found (part of) my purpose through employment. It was actually a very good friend of mine who encouraged me to apply for a particular position that I was initially reluctant to take on. She said, “Liz, you’ll be great at this, just apply”. I eventually did and was successful. The role entailed developing materials and facilitating workshops about the impact of domestic and family violence. Even though my work is primarily in this area, my purpose is actually beyond this. I see my purposes in the broader sense of being and doing all that I believe the Creator placed me on the Earth for and this is just one segment of it. I stay consistent because I am doing what I love. I also stay consistent because I believe that what I am doing now is a part of a bigger picture that can only unfold as I stay faithful to the call.
Balancing motherhood, education and work are not easy but it’s doable if you have the right people around you and the right systems to help you stay on top of the demands. I am blessed with an amazing partner. He is supportive of me in every way and that makes a huge difference. He pushes me when I get complacent or tempted to give up. As an amazing dad, I don’t have to ask too much of him, he knows his role and takes the responsibility seriously yet so gently as well. I am also blessed to have the support of my mother, siblings and sister in law. Without them, it would be impossible to manage a demanding job that sometimes requires me to travel around the country with kids and everything else. I think it’s important to have a support system because no one can get through life alone. They are my support system to whom I am indebted with so much gratitude.
The youth are struggling to adjust to the Western world because of so many factors that combined create a very emotionally difficult experience for a young person. Much has been said about ‘living between two worlds’ but for many of our young people, it’s actually more than two worlds. They are often torn between living in a society where they are visibly different (so experiences of racism or being ‘othered’ on a daily basis are not uncommon), the expectations of parents/caregivers and the community coupled with the pressure of peers and popular mainstream media. All these daily challenges coupled together leave young people living in conflict with themselves as they struggle to find their place in the world. I think that there is also a lot of misunderstanding and lack of communication which can act as a challenge to young people. The various worlds they occupy seldom communicate or understand each other and that is a big issue.
I would encourage the youth to firstly know and understand that they are valuable, valid and unique as they are. That they do not need to ascribe to other people’s ideals of anything (success, beauty, knowledge etc.). I would encourage our young people to understand that they were created by a powerful force as they are for a purpose. I would also encourage young people to live a life that is true to themselves, a life of integrity and truth. To find who they are, their voice and their place in the world not by looking externally but by looking within, looking internally.
I think a huge part of being able to love and appreciate oneself as one is can happen through the process of learning and unlearning. Learning our own history from the perspectives of our people and simultaneously unlearning the negative mental conditioning of our minds. Lastly, I would encourage our youth to see the process of learning as unending. They say that “only a fool knows it all” and that is so true. A true student of life never stops learning (and I’m not just talking in the formal institutional way of learning) but being a student of life, being observant and allowing life to teach you because it will if you are a willing student. This is an ongoing journey that may never come to an end, but there is much to be gained in embarking on it.
Chief Executive Officer at Diversity Focus
Phone: (08) 9441 4811
Address: Level 2, Building C, 355 Scarborough Beach Rd
Osborne Park WA 6017 Australia
Nyabuoy Gatbel is a South Sudanese Canadian currently living in Calgary, AB. She was born in Ethiopia in 1993 and moved to Canada as a refugee in 2002. She's currently a undergraduate student at the University of Calgary. Besides her studies she's a social entreprenuer focusing on the, ''Paarman Centre project,'' a fashion model, writer and author of the book, ''The Fire Within poetry in Thok Nath and English.''