Adelaide is a long way from Kakuma Refugee Camp in rural Kenya. The enormity of the journey Gabriel Arou took to find freedom is not lost on the Centacare Disability Support Worker who is sharing his story in the wake of Refugee Week.
Gabriel Arou was 11 when civil strife in South Sudan turned his life upside down.
“Every day we would look after animals, go bushwalking, fishing, but then, because of war, everything changed,’’ Gabriel says of growing up in the city of Bor, the capital of Jonglei State.
“People were being killed, attacked by gunmen. South Sudan was fighting for freedom.’’
With the once peaceful agricultural hub now an epicentre of conflict, Gabriel fled with his mother and sister across the River Nile.
The trio spent the next six years in camps for displaced people, sheltering from the escalating political violence that would ultimately destroy millions of homes and livelihoods.
“Each time a town was attacked, we would have to flee,’’ Gabriel says.
When the family became separated, Gabriel settled at Kakuma Refugee Camp, established in Kenya in 1991 to provide basic shelter for registered refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Food shortages, malnutrition and illnesses were high in Kakuma where water and food were strictly rationed.
Amidst the hardship in his overcrowded surrounds, Gabriel says he found hope in the kindness of strangers.
“I was supported by people I didn’t know through the UN agency, UNHCR. They were donating food, medicine, and sending it to the camp out of goodwill,’’ he says.
The donors’ compassion remained a driving force for Gabriel after he arrived in South Australia, with his sister, on humanitarian grounds in 2003.
“I was inspired by the help I had along the way,’’ he says. “I said to myself, if other people can help, then I can too.’’
Driven to give back to community as strangers had for him, Gabriel joined Centacare as a disability support worker in 2018.
“I know my help means a lot to the clients,’’ he says. “I am making a difference in their lives and that is very important to me because of the help I received from people who expected nothing in return.’’
At Xavier House, a supported accommodation site in Elizabeth East, Gabriel assists two men with intellectual disabilities to hone their independent living skills and build social and community connections.
On the back of Refugee Week, his message to others facing challenges in their lives is never give up.
“Have hope because God opens the way for people,’’ Gabriel says.
“I know when I was in Kakuma, I never thought it would be possible to come to Australia. The only thing I knew about Australia was kangaroos which I’d seen in a book when I was a teenager.
“But Adelaide is home for me now and is the place I can support my family and others through my work.’’