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How can South Sudanese refugees, who have escaped from their war-torn homeland, have been characterised in the Melbourne media as ‘running around town acting exactly like a gang’1
In a recent doctoral study2 the recollections of a small group of Dinka- speaking refugee participants, now based in Adelaide, highlighted the strong bonds with their extended family members and community life in southern Sudan. Their collective society was bound by strict rules, oral communications and understandings, passed down the generations in the midst of almost ever-present war or threat of war.
Once in Australia the family became ‘broken’ and extended family members were displaced. Hurdles included visibility, disrupted past learning, little literacy in their mother tongue, Dinka, compulsory English literacy in schools and for employment and living in strange ‘suburbs’. However, many of the Adelaide respondents overcame these challenges and have gone on to tertiary study. Critical factors included understanding teachers, literacy in Dinka as well as English, community support and family substitutes, especially male role models, and mentoring by positive achievers.
About the speaker
Dr Judith Thomas is a fervent practitioner of languages and culture. Her roles have included secondary teaching of English, French and Japanese in Australia; English with the MOE, Singapore; Grad Dip Lecturer in Languages and ESL Curriculum & Methodology and PhD researcher on the learning experiences of South Sudanese refugee secondary students in their homeland and in Adelaide, South Australia with the University of Adelaide. She will be presenting at the ACTA Conference, Adelaide and the AFSAAP International Conference, UNSW. Currently she is working on an article on the Dinka Language and is a new member of the Anglicare SA group assisting medical care and educational interests in Bor, South Sudan.
BA (Melb); Grad Dip (Sec) (TCAE); M.Litt (UNE);M.Ed (TESOL) (Deakin) and PhD (Adel).
1Urban, R. (2018, January 6-7). Streets of Menace. The Weekend Australian, pp. 11-12.
2Thomas, J. (2017). From Southern Sudan to Adelaide: learning journeys of refugee secondary students. PhD thesis, University of Adelaide, Australia