“I first became involved with The Helping Hand Project (HHP) in 2004. I was going through a difficult time in my personal life at the time and a friend recommended me to program believing it would help me through this period. I was immediately drawn to program; not having known my father growing up I was aware of how important it was to have a role model in your life. I was also starting a business which was to be listed on the ASX and thought mentoring would be something which gives back to the community rather than taking.
I mentored a number of young refugees but one in particular, Peter, I have known for 12 years. I met Peter when he was about 13 just after he arrived in Australia. I say about 13 as it is common with refugee minors they don’t know their birthdays. Peter had fled Sudan by foot aged about 6 and ended up in a Kenyan refugee camp where he lived for five or six years.
When Peter arrived in Australia he had no family and little English, lived with a couple of other Sudanese boys in the Flemington flats.
There are many stories to tell about mentoring experience but Peter now has a degree, a full-time job as a supervisor while he is also a leader within the local South Sudanese community. Peter recently got married in South Sudan which I was supposed to attend however decided not to on safety concerns and instead bought 10 cows which were given to the bride’s parents. Peter and I also recently organised a fund-raising event to provide vaccinations in South Sudan for the cholera outbreak. It was a fully inclusive night of South Sudanese and the local Flemington community enjoying some African bands, beats and food.
I believe the most rewarding part about mentoring it that it is two-way street. I thought Peter would be learning from me however he has been inspirational with his resilience and perseverance. I have made many friends in his community and have been welcomed with open arms. Most importantly it has made me aware of the refugee plight. Now when I see someone that maybe of a refugee background I know they will have an incredible back story.
While I have been on the HHP committee for about 8 years I became chairman about 4 years as the then chairman was moving overseas. It is incredibly rewarding hearing about the wonderful partnerships this program has created. Hearing the stories of first time mentors talking about their mentee relationship and interactions is always heartwarming. Many have gone onto to lifelong friendships.
Mentoring and chairing the program are undoubtedly the most rewarding things I have done in my life.”
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