Whenever life with your kids seems tough and tiring, it might be worth reflecting on Priskilla John’s early months in war-torn South Sudan, followed by years in a refugee camp in Kenya.
After war broke out in their village, Priskilla’s mother and father took their seven children, including Priskilla, just months old, and walked for eight months to reach a refugee camp in Kenya. When her father was shot and killed in that camp, life became even more of a struggle.
One of Priskilla’s jobs was to walk 30 minutes each way from the camp to get water, barefoot over blazing hot dirt roads. UNHCR handouts were meagre – mostly beans, corn, flour and oil – and rarely lasted the 15 days between rations.
“Most nights we went to sleep hungry and with almost no water to drink. Carrying a large bottle of water was like walking on fire. Those 12 years were spent just trying to stay alive until the next day.”
But then, everything changed
With six of her children Priskilla’s mother arrived in Australia in March 2004 on a humanitarian visa, with help from her uncle, who was already living here. Priskilla was 13 when she came to Australia.
“Setting foot in Australia was the best thing that ever happened,” Priskilla says. “We had never seen glass buildings, or buildings with electricity and toilets in them and we were eating meat almost every night!”
Three of Priskilla’s brothers have since come to Australia. One sister and one brother remain in Kenya.
With intensive English courses behind them, Priskilla and her siblings started school, taking part-time work wherever they could get it to help the family in Australia and back in Africa.
“We struggled our way through it.”
One of Priskilla’s part time jobs was at Domino’s Pizza and that led to her being offered a job at Stockland where she started working in 2010. She is now studying for her Bachelor of Business Administration.
“Work is my second home. I’ve been at Stockland for almost eight years now and I’m so happy to come to work. It’s the most important thing to me after my babies. I also feel like I’m contributing to my family and not just my husband as the breadwinner.”
Priskilla met her husband James in 2009 at their church and they were married in 2014. They now have had two children - daughter Anyier, who turns 3 in August and son Atem turns 1 this month.
Gratitude and thanks
“One day I’d like to take my kids back to Kenya and tell them, ‘see that dirt floor with a blanket on it? That’s how we lived. And going to the toilet meant digging a hole in the ground’. I hope my children will appreciate this wonderful country as much as I do and not take their lives for granted. Nor do I take motherhood for granted.”
Another first: Mother’s Day as a mum of two
“We didn’t have Mother’s Day in my country. And even if we did, we had no money to buy our mother anything. To show how much we appreciated what she did for us, we would try to be good, stay out of trouble and help her as much as we could.”
“Now, we tell her we love her every day and get her whatever she wants or needs, like a massage. And my twin younger sisters are working two jobs and studying so they can buy her a house.
“I’m grateful that I have the peace of mind that my kids have food in their stomachs and they do not have to face war, like my mum did.”
“On the night I was born, mum had the feeling of needing to go to the bathroom. She went outside to try to go to the toilet but it was pitch black and lost her way back. That’s when she had me…she grabbed me and made her way back into the house to cut my cord. I tell mum she nearly killed me!”
Reflecting on her own experience of motherhood, Priskilla adds: “People say motherhood is the greatest job in the world. For me I don’t think it’s like having a job at all. It’s the most amazing feeling – from the first moment when I saw my daughter and put her on my chest.”
A blessing to be ‘born again’ in Australia
My new life in Australia is a blessing. It’s as if I was born again with my health, my education and my security.”
“May God bless Australia. May God bless my country, South Sudan.”
About: 'Those who mum' series
Meet 40 women across Australia, from as far as Cairns in North Queensland to Baldivis in Western Australia, as part of a 40-part editorial and portrait series that celebrates the faces of women and mums from across Australia.