Sr Maria Sullivan, John Cinya and Tess Mulveney.

I have been involved with the Sudanese community since I first found them in 1998 in the refugee flats in Auburn. At their request, I helped them set up the St Bakhita Centre in Flemington. To understand the culture more I lived in Mapuordit, South Sudan, in 2006.

In 2017, John Cinya, Chaplain to the Sudanese Community in Parramatta Diocese, asked me to help young members of the community. They were consistently falling out of education and failing to find employment once they left school.

Since 2017, a robust mentor program has grown through the efforts of Tess Mulveney (and many mentors from North Shore schools) who minister with John Cinya and me to support Sudanese students and their parents. Every year, Mary MacKillop Today provides $10,000 towards the Josephite Mentor Program through their Community Grants program.

A mentor is paired with a Sudanese school leaver and parent. The mentor then walks with the young person from when they leave school until they finish study or find meaningful employment.

Young mentees are progressing through a leadership program we have set up within the mentor program. Scovia, a young mentee, expresses her gratitude:

“I just wanted to take the time to thank you [Tess] and Sister Maria for your constant support and for always thinking of me. The financial support has been great but is far from the other positive impacts you have made in my life.

“Through connecting me with my lovely mentor Kate, you both have enabled me to expand my opportunities far beyond what I could have ever imagined. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and I will forever remember your kindness.”

Currently, John, Tess and I have been working with leadership in CEDP (Catholic Education Department Parramatta) to set up a mentor program through them for all Sudanese students leaving school.

When COVID struck the Sudanese community in a sudden and serious way in August 2021, the situation became quite dire. Many in the community became very sick and some died. Because many families had no backup, there was the danger that someone in a household with COVID needed to go shopping.

In response to the COVID outbreak, Sudanese community leaders, John and Anna Dimo swung into action asking for help from the mentors. The mentors took up the challenge in a big way.

Two mentors raised $10,000 worth of eVouchers for food, and all the mentors then taught their mentees how to use the vouchers to order food online so that no member of the family needed to go out to purchase food.

A number of young mentees were removed from their families into “health hotels”, either because they were the only person in the home with COVID, or the only one without it. Mentors kept contact, supporting them, speaking with them and ordering them a surprise food package.

While COVID has been horrible for so many reasons, in many cases it has helped our extended Josephite community to shine.

Sr Maria Sullivan