Dancing days come amid the tears

The Canberra Times 5 February 2014, by John Thistleton.

Dinka children dance

The Sudanese community prepares for the multicultural festival. Front is Chut Chol Garang, 2 of Oxley dancing at the St Phillip's Anglican Church, O'Connor.

Tears streaking down the faces of South Sudanese children at St Philip's Anglican Church, O'Connor, on Sunday afternoon dry and disappear quickly.>The tears of their parents are not visible, run deeper and may never stop. The little ones cry because they're too young to join their older brothers and sisters up the front of the church, springing and swaying from one foot to the other, dancing to the thunderous drums and cries of their Dinka community leaders. Aged 6 to 13, the older children will dance at the National Multicultural Festival in Civic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, February 7, 8 and 9.

Their leader, and lay minister at St Philip's, Peter Manyok Kuot, hopes the joyous state of mind the children find themselves in will teach them to turn to drums, singing and their Christian faith as they approach adulthood, rather than alcohol.

"It reminds me, in Sudan, when you reach above 30, you are allowed to taste alcohol, and you go to another place in your mind," Mr Manyok Kuot said. "In the war, soldiers are given alcohol when they are 18. This is their freedom. They can drink. And the young soldiers kill one another's fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters."

Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn Stuart Robinson said Dinka communities were being "retraumatised by unspeakable acts of violence and terror in South Sudan".

Raised in a traditional Christian family, Mr Manyok Kuot fled from Jonglei State, Sudan, as a teenager and later spent five years in a Kenyan refugee camp before his uncle sponsored him to Canberra. His father died of ill health in a refugee camp. He does not recall what happened to his mother. He believes an older brother is alive but unwell in Nairobi.

Mr Manyok Kuot's story is a familiar one among the 1700-strong South Sudanese in Canberra who despair at the conflict tearing their homeland apart.

The latest fighting erupted in December when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup. When Canberrans learn of their relatives being shot, they know they will not be buried but will remain lying in the streets.

Mr Manyok Kuot said Sudanese people wanted to study as well as work in Canberra, which could be hard, especially for those raising children. The 31-year-old works as a cleaner at the Canberra Hospital and says others had found work as cleaners. Some worked at Pace Egg Farm in Belconnen.

"There's no factories in Canberra," he said. Finding jobs was a struggle.

Another drawcard at the multicultural festival, food, has helped women refugees from Sudan form a social enterprise from the Notaras Multicultural Centre. They are known as White Nile and cater for private and corporate events and market stalls.