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Sudanese refugees take their stories to the s -

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Sudanese refugees take their stories to the stage

Antonette Collins reported this story on Friday, November 20, 2009 12:41:00

SHANE MCLEOD: With politicians still grappling with the latest influx of asylum seekers, young
Sudanese refugees are taking their experiences to the stage.

A new production in western Sydney is shedding light on the difficulties encountered by recently
settled refugees as they struggle to adapt to their new homes while maintaining their own
traditions.

But it's hoped that by telling their stories, the members of the Sudanese community will be able to
bridge the divide.

Antonette Collins prepared this report.

EXCERPT FROM PLAY: Inside the house we are Sudanese, at least one night of the week.

ANTONETTE COLLINS: Inside Blacktown Arts Centre, this group of young actors is putting the final
touches to a production that's been three years in the making.

EXCERPT FROM PLAY: Show some respect when you speak to me, I'm your older brother.

That's how we do it in Sudan.

ANTONETTE COLLINS: My Name is Sud follows the story of a family who have managed to escape conflict
in Sudan only to face a different kind of conflict that dealing with newfound freedom brings.

DOR AKECH ACHECK: It's been quite a very big task for me to actually step out of my shoes and
become part of the Australian community and at the same time step back into my shoes, so it's been
quite hard.

ANTONETTE COLLINS: Actor Dor Akech Acheck came to Australia in 2003 on a humanitarian visa after
spending nine years in a refugee camp.

DOR AKECH ACHECK: This play will help educate most of the young people on issues that they face
outside the world and issues they face inside their home. This play focus mainly on issues they
face inside their home with their parents and I think young people can learn from that and how to
deal with that.

ANTONETTE COLLINS: The city of Blacktown in Sydney's west is the major resettling area for African
refugees in Australia. The local council says the sudden influx has resulted in some tension
between communities.

That's why it engaged South African director and writer Robert Colman to lead the project in 2007,
guiding young Sudanese writers and actors from the local community to recount their experiences in
front of a wider audience.

ROBERT COLMAN: They were very clear from the start that they didn't want to tell stories about
their journeys to Australia, their lives in Africa, they wanted to talk about their lives as young
people living in western Sydney.

ANTONETTE COLLINS: But he says one of the biggest challenges was finding the right cast.

ROBERT COLMAN: It was difficult to find actors because there's certainly not a pool of young
Sudanese actors in Sydney for obvious reasons. What's been incredible is that we have found a cast
who've really come up to the bar and the final draft of the script they contributed to and their
contribution to that was incredibly insightful and helpful.

ANTONETTE COLLINS: He hopes that productions like this will encourage others in the community to
engage in the arts.

ROBERT COLMAN: So it's about the Sudanese community seeing them reflected in themselves, reflected
in mainstream culture and it's about the actors involved in this and people seeing them in it and
aspiring to that and for me ultimately it's about the next generation turning around and saying
okay we don't need mentors anymore we know how to do this and this is the story we want to tell and
this is how we're going to tell it.

ANTONETTE COLLINS: For 19 year old writer Akoi Majak the chance to be involved in the project was a
dream come true.

AKOI MAJAK: Because I love writing so I thought maybe I should try this because it's what I love,
instead of writing in my diary at home.

ANTONETTE COLLINS: The story of the lead character is largely based on her own life.

AKOI MAJAK: Sudanese girls at the moment, they find it difficult to be what they really want to be
than what their parent expect from them. So I'm really lucky to do this because that's what I
really love.

ANTONETTE COLLINS: Awek Akech, who plays the role of Akoi, says the issue of generational conflict
is common to many Sudanese families.

AWEK AKECH: The story basically is like a reality. Well, to me the situation in Australia, who we
are as Sudanese and how we represent ourselves.

EXCERPT FROM PLAY: I want my story to inspire you to see different picture of me.

AWEK AKECH: As a young girl in Australia arriving to different country, different life, it's always
hard to settle in different culture and understand what Australian is and what they do and what can
I do to fit in with them.

SHANE MCLEOD: Actor Awek Akech ending that report by Antonette Collins.