After Deruka Dekuek fled South Sudan, she vowed to help improve the lives of other African young people.
“I didn’t want to see them in my shoes,” the Melton South mother of five said.
“I’ve been through a lot. I’ve seen a lot during the wars, and I lost my dad when I was seven. I lived a very hard life.
“But coming to Australia, I feel fortunate, I feel lucky and I want to see this young generation be successful.”
Language, cultural and systemic barriers make life tough for members of the African diaspora that is an emerging community in Australia.
Two of the biggest challenges facing young African people are employment and racial discrimination, Ms Dekuek, 32, says.
“If I apply for a job under Deruka and also Sarah, Sarah will be [most likely] called for the interview,” she said.
“There’s discrimination and most of the youth feel that way.”
“I’ve been working for the last 10 years and sometimes you encounter people who make you feel down, but you give them the deaf ear,” Ms Dekuek says.
“These people are young, though, and when they face discrimination they lose courage and they lose hope.”
To improve her leadership skills and enhance her understanding of her community, Ms Dekuek applied for and won a place in the African Leadership Development Program, which has been running since 2010.
“I have so many projects in my mind but I have to take them one step at a time,” she said. “My end target is to bring awareness to the mainstream about issues that are facing Africans. We have to sit down as one group and discuss what is affecting African youth … once you feel like you’re not valued, you have negative attitudes.”
African Leadership Development Program founder Haileluel Gebre-Selassie said racial discrimination and profiling “to some degree” undid all the good work African leaders have been doing in their communities.
“But I think it’s a process we need to go through,” the Caroline Springs resident said. “I’m optimistic we can create good leaders who lead young people by example.
“We need to increase the participation of communities by creating opportunities for them.”