For civil war survivors in Sydney’s South Sudanese community, singing is more than entertainment: it’s therapy.
Aduk Dau has lived in Australia for almost a decade, but her memories of Sudan’s brutal civil war will always linger.
“During the war, people were suffering a lot,” she recalls. “The women were suffering a lot; because their husband has been killed, your child been killed.”
An estimated 1.5 million people lost their lives in South Sudan during a 22-year conflict that ended in 2005. The nation declared its independence in 2011.
For many survivors, no amount of time or distance will ever completely heal the pain of loss and trauma.
“[You become] a little bit healed, but never go away, it’s still there,” says Aduk.
Still, she has discovered her own way of coping. Being part of the South Sudanese women’s performance group, a singing collective based in western Sydney, is one way Aduk and around a dozen others can reflect on a past they can’t forget.
Together, the women write and perform songs that contain powerful messages.
"It's healing, you know," says Aduk. "There's counselling, but we don't do counselling. When you do counselling, you remind someone of a bad thing, so we don't enjoy that."
Singing is deeply linked with the culture of communication in the South Sudanese community.
“When you’re happy, you sing it out; when you’re sad, you sing it out,” says Aduk. “You talk to people, you make an announcement – anything at all, you make a song.”
The group took their performance public last week, taking part in a showcase organised by the NSW service for the treatment and rehabilitation of torture and trauma survivors (STARTTS) in western Sydney.
STARTTS chief executive Jorge Aroche says the showcase brought together more than 200 people from a number of different African refugee backgrounds.
It’s one of many ways the organisation strives to help those dealing with the psychological effects of conflict.
“Dance brings people together, but also brings people together in a way that turns thoughts and feelings into action, and that’s tremendously therapeutic,” he says.
Elizabeth Lual travelled more than an hour from the city of Wollongong, south of Sydney, to add her voice to the South Sudanese women’s performance group.
A grandmother of four, Elizabeth takes the task of sharing stories from South Sudan with the broader community very seriously.
"It looks like fun, but it's not fun," she says. “I’m not a young woman, I’m an old woman. I can’t come if it’s [just] fun.”
"We want the people that doesn't know what happened a long time in the past, and that is why we are here."
In particular, she says, she’ll be singing with pride about South Sudan’s independence.
“We wipe our tears now,” she says. “We’ve got our rights."