Medina Lamunu from Warragul in Victoria has faced hardship after hardship in an inspiring story of resilience. After escaping the brutal conflict in South Sudan and facing a life threatening situation in Uganda, she has now settled in Gippsland. She now works at an aged care home during COVID-19, putting herself on the front line to protect the vulnerable in the community. However, with all of her family still stuck in a refugee camp in Uganda, she is continually driven to try and bring them to Australia as a ‘My New Neighbour’ Ambassador with Amnesty International Australia.
“We escaped from the South Sudanese conflict in 1994 to Uganda but we did not find safety there. It honestly felt like we were escaping two wars because a group of rebels kept harassing and attacking our camp. I’ll never forget one occasion when they came. They asked us to gather food for them and stand with it near a mango tree. But when they had gathered us together, then the rebels started murdering the men, women and children, slaughtering them with their machete and guns. My family desperately fled but the rebels continued to attack our camp for many months afterwards.
“The rebels kept coming and my mum told us it was time to relocate but I was doing my final year of education for primary school so I had to make the really hard decision to leave my family and stay where I was. However, a few months later, my life got turned upside down again.
“I was sleeping in a neighbour’s house, and at 6 oclock in the morning we heard a big gunshot. Guns and bullets flying everywhere as the rebels destroyed our town. My neighbour had two small children, so I had to cuddle one of them on my back and one of them was like a koala clinging onto me as we started running. We kept on running until we couldn’t hear the guns anymore. I then reunited with my mum in a new refugee camp after travelling by myself from Northern to Western Uganda.
“My mum was really struggling because she was very sick from all that she had been through with us but she kept going because of the kids. Eventually she managed to build a house for us and we stayed there. We had no money to even buy food so I had to take the responsibility to grow the food for our entire family from when I was about 16. From there I started schooling and finished my final year of primary school and was able to get a scholarship to attend secondary school. I met my partner in my final year of secondary school, and he then migrated to Australia and a year later, I followed him over here on a partner visa.”
“After bouncing around a bit, we eventually settled in Warragul in Gippsland. I love Gippsland. It is now my home since 2011. It is a community with lots of young families and although it is far away from the city, we have every service here and we are really happy here. At the moment I’m working in Kooweerap regional hospital as a nurse. The biggest challenge in being a nurse right now is taking extra caution because I want to protect my family, my friends and the people I look after when I go to work.
“Before, I really enjoyed nursing. It is not just when you are treating people or like giving them medication, it is when you get to know them personally. The best day of my work when I go working as a nurse is when I spend time with the patients or when I work in aged care, is when I spend time with the residents. Getting to know them, living alone, all their health issues you get to know them personally which is really good, especially the old people, they are amazing.
“During Covid, the work was difficult. Because like, where I was working, there is a medical ward and a residential ward, the nursing home, so in the morning you have to check everyone’s temperature and then be vigilant of any sign and symptoms of the COVID-19, like a sore throat or high temperature or even a loss of taste or smell. You have to ask the resident every day. But the way you can spend time with them is not like before, like for example if they have a cough and high temperature you have to immediately isolate them whilst the swab is being taken for COVID 19.
“But there is a sad side to our life in Australia. My mum is still in a refugee camp in Uganda with my siblings. But I still support them in Uganda in terms of medical and money. I am the only one here and I am the breadwinner for my family even up to now I have to support them. I wish my family was able to be here to be with me in Australia. But it is just so hard to do that with the current system.
“However, people in Warragul have also really wanted to help us too. We have met a community in the church, ever since we have been great friends with them. We have met a couple here in Warragul who are in their 80s who have been really helpful in trying to raise some money to start the process of private sponsorship. We call them now mum and dad because they requested us to call them that way and our children call them grandma and grandpa. Except one day my older boy, asked he is only like 3 years old, he said “oh mum, why is our grandpa and grandma have different colour os skin”. I told them this is because we live in Australia and these are your Australian grandparents but you have your African grandma and grandpa in Africa. It reminds me of the great community goodwill that exists here in Australia.”