Players' Voice — Akec Makur Chuot

Players' Voice — Akec Makur Chuot

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Growing up in Kenya, there weren’t many opportunities to play sport which was tough because I loved getting outside and being active.

Only the boys were allowed to play sports in the camp we grew up in, so the girls had to watch them having all the fun!

I was born in South Sudan, but at three months I moved to Kenya with my mum and Auntie. We didn’t really know anyone, so we had to join in with a new community and make friends. I have seven other siblings, and my mum raised all of us as a single parent.

1992, my mum had a eye infection and they didn’t have the medical facilities we needed in South Sudan to take care of her. At the time there was a lot of conflict still going on.

Mum was told that she needed to travel elsewhere to get the treatment. My other siblings joined us not long after my mother received the treatment and we lived in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.

Stephen Coniglio writes about the significance of the Multicultural Round

That was where I made all of my childhood memories, both good and bad.

I didn’t know any other places, so it was home for me. We had to make the most of what we had.

During the day, we went to school which was funded by the UNHCR.

The classes were crowded, there were probably 50 students in one class. One thing I loved about growing up there though was the eagerness to learn.

We didn’t have a lot, but the children who I grew up with were so keen to learn as much as possible.

We hoped, as young people, that something better would come for us one day. That’s what inspired us and meant that we never took our education for granted.

I often tell young kids when I see them to not take anything for granted.

Sometimes it can be easy to be in Australia because of the benefits we enjoy, but back home we didn’t have something as basic as street lights, so at 5:30pm or 6pm we had to come home because everything went pitch black.

There wasn’t even electricity around the houses so you had to use lanterns and torches.

Our journey to come to Australia was massive. I was just 12 at the time, so perhaps I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was incredibly excited.

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Our uncle was in Melbourne and he was our sponsor who sent us an application form.

The process of us going through interviews and medical checks took nine years, that’s how long we waited to become a refugee itself!

When we finally got our VISAs approved, I felt like the kids on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was like we received a golden ticket to go and live out our dream in Australia.

All of our friends didn’t go to school that day, we actually hired vans and buses so our friends could say goodbye to us.

It was night time when we got to Perth and I remember touching down and thinking, ‘Wow, this our new life! We’re going to get more opportunities now.’

It was really exciting and a big move for our family, and especially my mum. She was a single parent and was raising eight kids on her own. She finally got the chance to come here and give her kids a better education which was something she always wanted for us.

Believe it or not, settling into school never fazed me. I’m an easy-going person and react to new situations well.

I made myself adaptable and enjoyed meeting new people. Perhaps growing up in a refugee camp and having to travel up and down from Nairobi to Kakuma helped me in that regard.

We went to Aranmore Catholic College which was a school that catered for a lot of South Sudanese people, so we were lucky to have people around us from the same part of the world.

The school accepted us and supported us, and the one thing I picked up from day one was sport.

Having new opportunities from the school to play sport was foreign to me, so I lapped it up straight away. I played soccer because I knew people that loved playing.

In 2009, I came across AFL. The East Perth Football Club were doing an all-girls carnival, and they wanted girls to play. One of my teachers handed me the form and told me to give it a try so I did.

I had so much fun and played in the all-day carnival. I didn’t know any rules or anything like that, my only experience was watching the Eagles on TV and picking up a few skills there.

I tried to apply those and my first time playing I got best on ground! That seriously surprised me.

The parents of all the kids were so supportive and took me in that day as one of their own and that was one of the reasons why I chose footy. It was amazing to see how so many people bonded in one day, playing one sport.

In 2012, I played my first full season and was made captain of my team – I even led the boys in the side! It was a bit challenging but it was cool because I held my ground and thought I was better than most of the boys. I earned their respect.

In 2013, I joined a girls team and was picked to play in the WA state side and played in Cairns in the Australian Women’s Championships which was a massive confidence booster. In 2014, I moved over to Swan Districts and have been there ever since, culminating in being drafted to Fremantle for the inaugural AFLW season.

It’s a humbling experience to now be a role model. Growing up, all I wanted to do was to become a professional athlete, and I didn’t care which sport that was in. I’m very lucky because I’m able to play soccer, footy and basketball.

The reason why I went to footy was because I never saw many African girls playing the game, so I wanted to be the girl that did it. I want girls to say, ‘I want to do what she did!’

To be a role model is honestly a gift and it drives me to work harder and do all the right things. There’s so much talent in the South Sudanese community, so I want to be looked up to by those brothers and sisters.

To have others like Majak Daw and Aliir Aliir in footy, and Thon Maker in basketball all making waves, and to join them, is pretty incredible because I grew up in Kakuma with Aliir and with Thon in WA.

It’s unbelievable to see where we are today.

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