Kakuma refugee camp - Photo, www.maryknollsociety.org

Kakuma refugee camp – Photo, www.maryknollsociety.org

William Maker endured a harsh upbringing in Sudan. He was born into a family where enduring hardship was a normal way of life. He spent twelve years in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. He and his family were amongst the first residents of that camp when it was established. Eventually he made his way to Australia and more particularly, Perth, where he became amongst the first of his community to work in the mining industry here in Kalgoorlie. He married and that marriage lasted a few days ending whilst the couple were away on honeymoon. He took up drinking as solace for his fractured ego and then met a lady of his dreams back home in Sudan. Through these hardships he remained dedicated to the provision of comfort, solace and a future for his extended family. He also remained dedicated to his faith. Life for him turned around when he met Susan. Soon after returning to Perth following his traditional marriage to Susan he had got back into the daily grind of life in Perth. Susan was to join him as soon as the visa application could be lodged. But Susan’s first trip to Perth came two weeks ago and it was to bury William. Because the matter is the subject of a murder charge it is not possible to discuss the details of the incident. However, readers will have read of the events that are alleged to have occurred in Merriwa in early April. William’s life was taken from us at the age of 29. Susan shared his life as his wife but for a mere trifle of a lifetime.

I was honoured to speak at the memorial service for William Maker. His sister Mary spoke of their journey to Australia. Rather than attempt to paraphrase her words I reproduce parts of her eulogy that detail the hazardous trek that many refugees have undertaken to come to Australia. This is the story that is so often forgotten in the ugly, venomous and toxic conversation that we, as a nation, are having about asylum seekers. The discourse is xenophobic, racist and incredibly vitriolic. And unfortunately a lot of it is led by the people that we have elected to lead us. We can but hope that when people read Mary Maker’s story, they will re-evaluate their stance on refugee numbers and their treatment.  

“Our story:

Family of Eight Children

The first five children of my parents were born in Rumbek town, namely: William Maker (deceased) being the first born, second were twins Angeer and Adit Maker(Deceased), third being  Mary Maker, fourth was Yar Maker(Deceased) and the fifth child being John Maker. Maria Maker was conceived in Ethiopia after we ran away from Rumbek and came to a place called Kapoeta, with the help of my uncle Eli Manyol. Mum then left us in Kapoeta and went searching for my father and found him in Ethiopia. Mum returned to us in Kapoeta and soon thereafter gave birth to my little sister Maria. The eighth child of my parents was again as a result of struggle where mum had to go in search of my father again, found him arrested and tortured. Mum carried the pregnancy for nine months but when she gave birth, it was a still birth. This was in Kapenguria, a small town in Kenya. 

Escaping from Rumbek

William was an active child. At the age of 4, William was talkative, playful and very sociable. He knew all his neighbours’ children because he played a lot with them. One day my uncle Eli called him and asked him; ‘’my Nephew, what will I do to you to minimise your extreme play?’’ William answered, ‘’Uncle, if you are tired of seeing me visit my friends and play with them, please take a rope and tie my legs to your bed in your room so that I don’t get away again”. William was a strong believer in respecting the elders. He never wanted to disappoint anyone.

William was a chubby kid since birth and my cousins who were brought to our house to care for him while mum did the household chores, used to complain of how tired they were carrying him around.

Mum told us later that my uncle Eli Manyol was plotted to be killed by rebels. A God fearing man who happened to be a cousin of my uncle came home and conspired the plot against my uncle. Uncle then escaped that night and all of us were taken to the village and to a cattle camp. Since then, we never knew or heard where my uncle was until we met him again years later in Kapoeta.

When we got to the cattle camp, my mum’s mother (grandma Amer Majak) had about 300 head of cattle and was being helped by relatives to look after them. But when William arrived, he completely took over the roles of grazing the cows, milking them and making sure nothing happened to them. Again, William’s outgoing spirit saw him loved by all.

One day, a message came to us that Uncle Eli wanted us to join him in Kapoeta so that we could start our schooling. We started off on foot on a very long and tiring journey to a place called Yirol. We were eight in number then. Mum Regina, grandma Achuoth (deceased), William Maker (deceased), Laat Malual, Aguer Malual, Mary Maker, Yar Maker (deceased) and Aman Eli Magok. Mum led this group because she was the strongest. We arrived at Yirol safely and were received by another uncle and a friend to Eli. From Yirol, we were put on a lorry full of armies and a commander in charge was seated in front with his wife. At the back of the lorry, we were being stepped on with boots and hit with the back of the guns. We were screaming so loudly. When the commander in charge heard our screaming, he ordered the driver to stop the lorry, jumped off and rushed to the back and ordered us to get out and be left alone in the bush. Mum screamed and refused telling the man to take us back where he found us. The man was so rude and ruthless, he immediately ordered the armies to jump back on the lorry and do whatever they felt like. Again, William showed a great sign of protectiveness and bravery by holding on to mum and pushing away the commander when he was trying to drag mum down from the lorry. Anyway, we managed to get to another destination called “Shambe” a place by the sea. We were put on a boat there by someone who had contact with my uncle Eli. Being on the boat was great! It was comfortable and we had enough food to eat. Three days later, we arrived at our final destination, Kapoeta where my uncle was. It was a joyful moment! We hugged, laughed and clicked to uncle as if never to be separated again. 

We stayed in Kapoeta. Eleven days after the birth of Maria, my sister Yar passed away in Nairobi as a result of Asthma. Three months later, my late brother William told my mum that he wanted to leave the town to another place. My mum refused but an aunt said to let him go saying maybe God was leading him since no one knew what was to take place anytime. It was a week later when the place was circled and ambushed by the enemy. Somehow, another uncle of mine had a higher rank and so overheard that the enemy was around. The same day he heard of this incident, he came home and got all his children and wife into the lorry. When my mum heard some noise coming from their house, mum went to see what was going on, immediately, the wife of my uncle asked her to gather her children and get into the lorry. Mum rushed back and told us to run to the lorry. Just before we could all get into the lorry, the driver drove off. I was left behind and my mum was handed a different baby instead of Maria. I still remember mum screaming calling out, “this is not my child, this baby is light and my baby is heavy” She screamed and screamed. Luckily enough, a relative who was staying with us in the house got hold of Maria on one hand and caught my left hand with his other hand and started running after the lorry. The lorry joined a convoy of trucks soon thereafter.

The convoy took off and we arrived at a place where William had come to a week before we fled. William had made a small hut for us and gathered firewood and food ready for us. We stayed a few weeks in this place called “Nairus” and then we started off on foot to a place called “Lokichogio” near Kenya. The journey was bitter as it took days and nights, no food or water. Again, William acted as a leader and a protector throughout our journey. From Lokichogio, we were put on numerous Lorries to take us to a desert area that later became the Kakuma Refugee Camp where we stayed for the next 11 years. “

 My Note: The purpose of having Mary document her story was to demonstrate to readers of The Stringer, some of the hardships that refugees and asylum seekers endure to come here.  Eventually, Mary and her mother Regina and her family were able to come to Australia where William had already arrived. William proved to be an outstanding provider for the family. He became one of the first people of African descent to work in the mines in Kalgoorlie. All money earned was used to provide for all members of the family. Now the family has to cope without his assistance. Having spent time with Regina and Mary and Peters (their father and Husband) I can assure you that they are model residents of this country. Industrious and hard working with a strong commitment to family they are like approximately over 90% of the asylum seekers that come to Australia. Unfortunately, politicians of all persuasions have seen fit to demonise the majority by the status of this small minority. Hopefully, a number of them will read Mary’s story.