Program targets South Sudanese youth in Melton

A support and mentor program that aims to take Melton’s South Sudanese youth off the streets and get them into a supported environment is set to launch this weekend.

Community leaders John Garang Kon and Deruka Dekuek have been heavily involved in supporting South Sudanese families and connecting them to local services for the past several years.

Mr Kon says one of the most pressing issues facing South Sudanese youth is unemployment, and a recent spike in early school drop-outs.

“Most of these young people have lived in refugee camps, where there was no formal education,” he says.

“They don’t understand the system, and they haven’t received any education at a young age.

“When you don’t have that basic foundation, it’s hard to navigate through the education system in Australia.”

After talking to South Sudanese youth on the streets and mentoring them after school, Mr Kon noticed a disconnect between youth and mainstream organisations.

He decided to come up with a better plan to engage his community’s young people, encourage them to stay in school and strive for a better future.

Afterschool homework clubs, sports activities, camping and personal reflection sessions are part of the support plan.

Mr Kon says while the ultimate goal is to integrate South Sudanese youngsters into the rest of the community, a targeted approach to close the gap is vital.

“The reason I go to the streets and talk to them is to help them recognise the skills they’re good at,” he says.

“So if they’re good at soccer, we’ll direct them to soccer clubs. If they’re good at music, we’ll direct them to music classes.

“If they’re good at school, we’ll support them to stay in school.”

South Sudanese youngsters are suffering and struggling, Ms Dekuek says.

If her team can engage them, she says this will markedly reduce the anti-social behaviour and activities young people get involved in.

She says young migrants and refugees feel marginalised and labelled, and it’s important to offer them South Sudanese role models who’ve gone through similar experiences and hardships.

“Some of these children don’t have visions for the future, or have a career goal,” Ms Dekuek says.

“They don’t have goals, so we want to support them, and reinforce to them they can do whatever they set their minds to.”

For more information or to volunteer, call 0411 603 170.