We would like to say a huge thanks to Kids Own Publishing company, who’s belief in the children’s stories has resulted in this wonderful book ‘Donkey’s Can’t Fly On Planes’. Thank you Kids Own! Your advice, help and continued support is much appreciated!!
Budding authors: Sunday Garang, Nyetap Ruach and Nyawech Biliew at Liddiard Road Primary in Traralgon. Photo: Angela Wylie
Sharon Sandy never expected her work at a Traralgon school would involve arranging medical examinations in Africa. Or that she would organise DNA tests so students at Liddiard Road Primary School could be reunited with South Sudanese relatives.
In recent years, Traralgon has absorbed many Sudanese families who have sent their children to local schools.
And Ms Sandy, the Liddiard Road PS student welfare officer, was deeply affected by the stories the children brought with them. ”I just thought they were too important not to get down,” she said.
Six years ago Ms Sandy began helping the students write about their experiences. Now they have been published in a book, Donkeys Can’t Fly on Planes, set for release in June. The children created illustrations with string, fabric and natural objects to accompany the stories.
Despite initial reluctance, the 21 students eventually agreed to contribute their work. ”They realised people weren’t going to laugh at them, that people were really interested,” Ms Sandy said.
The stories were written in the simple and direct language of young children. They wrote about fetching water with a donkey from wells, escaping ”killers” and moving to Australia, while siblings and grandparents were forced to stay behind.
The stories have given voices to the children, who had seen too much violence, their families divided by war. Proceeds from the book sales will go towards building an orphanage and school in Bor in South Sudan.
Grade 6 student Sunday Garang wrote about her early years in a Kenyan refugee camp where hunger had even sapped her energy to cry. Her mother would soothe her to sleep by assuring her food would grow as she slept.
Nyawech Biliew, 11, hoped the stories would encourage readers to empathise with the experiences of refugees. ”So they can see we’re equal,” she said.
Staff at the school have gone to great lengths to support the Sudanese families. The school has contacted officials and health authorities in Africa several times to help students’ family members reach Australia.
But first the school had to encourage Sudanese parents to become involved in their children’s education. Now parents are regular visitors to the school. Even fathers who were, at first, resistant to educating their daughters have become active at the school and now have strong academic expectations for their children.
”We’ve really connected with our families and we make sure they know they’re part of the school,” Ms Sandy said.