Home' HR Monthly : December 2015 Contents December/January 2016 HRMonthly 39
How I got here...
John Akuak, MAHRI, shares the extraordinary story of how he went from fleeing
civil war in South Sudan to a career in HR at the Australian Medical Council.
I HAVE BEEN WORKING AT THE AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL
Council as a human resources advisor since 2011 and I really enjoy
what I do and work in a very supportive environment. The people
I work with are the ones that make me want to come to work
every day. I’m preparing for the HR manager’s role in the next two
to three years and I’m involved in the AHRI mentoring program to
help me reach that goal.
My journey to becoming an H R professional has been long and
began way back in South Sudan in 1987, when I was about 10.
My country was at war and government troops from the
north were attacking villages in the south to find rebels who they
thought were hiding out. One day, they arrived in our village
and everyone fled in different directions. I got separated from my
parents but managed to escape.
I became part of a large group of kids that later became known
as “the lost boys”. Together we decided to cut across the desert
to find a way into Ethiopia. Walking barefoot at night to conceal
ourselves and because it was too hot during the day, there was
little food and no clean water. There were outbreaks of diseases
or danger from snakes and other wild animals. So many of my
friends died en route. If kids were sick or couldn’t walk and there
were no adults to help them, some had to be left to die as no one
could carry them.
It took us three to four weeks and when we got to Ethiopia,
there was no shelter, nothing. We settled under trees and with
the few adults among us, we built what shelter we could and ate
anything, even leaves. Some people got poisoned and another
outbreak of cholera meant kids continued to die.
Then the UNCHR arrived and assessed us and started to bring
food. For a while things stabilised and I found a lot of the other
kids in the camp would come to me for advice. I wasn’t one of the
oldest but many told me that they felt I was fair-minded. I would
listen to them and treat them with respect. I started to realise that
I had these skills that meant people wanted to talk to me. I would
try to put myself into their shoes and I enjoyed helping them to
solve their problems.
In 1990-91, war broke out in Ethiopia and the government
was overthrown – and we had to run away again. This time, we
walked to Kenya and settled in a refugee camp.
It was there in 1992 that I started going to school. There were
only a few teachers and all they knew to teach was the ABC and
we would copy our letters by drawing them in the sand. One day a
charity came to our camp offering to sponsor some students to go
to a Kenyan boarding school – and I was one of those chosen.
It was from one of my teachers there that I first heard about the
HR profession where I would eventually end up working. I asked
him what it was about and he said HR is about managing people
and their issues at work. I thought, I could do that and so I asked
him ‘How do you get into that career?’ He told me that in Africa,
no one specialises in HR and I would have to leave if I wanted to
work in that field.
In 2000 and 2001, two important things happened. I was
reunited with my younger brother who came to the refugee camp
and I sat my high school exams. Then the big break for me came
thanks to the Australian government. The US government had
offered some of us a chance to resettle in the States and then
Australia followed suit. They were looking for young people who
could speak a bit of English and had some education and about 70
of us were selected.
In 2002, my younger brother and I settled in Blacktown. It
was really difficult for us at first because so much was new. The
Anglican church tried to help us initially but then we were left
on our own. I started looking for work but I had no idea where
to begin. I heard I needed to go to a recruitment agency but they
asked me for a CV and I had no idea how to put one together.
“WALKING BAREFOOT AT NIGHT
TO CONCEAL OURSELVES, THERE
WAS LITTLE FOOD AND NO CLEAN
17/11/2015 5:17 pm
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