I know who I am.

When my parents fled Sudan because of the war, they were forced to leave their country and came into Kenya, Kakuma Refugee Camp.

I think it was 1994 when they arrived and I was born there in ‘95 at the refugee camp and I lived there until I was about 10.

It was 2006 when we moved to Australia, along with my siblings and my Mum.

It wasn’t until this time, that I felt I had a home.

We moved to Adelaide and I remember saying to myself –  ‘Ok, I have the opportunity to become a football player’, you know because in the refugee camp there is not many opportunities, if any, and it’s very rare that you get a chance to follow your dreams.

Had I shared that dream with anyone else, I’m sure they would have laughed at me.

And who could blame them right? It was probably one of the most far-fetched, unlikeliest of dreams… but it was my dream, and that’s all that mattered to me.

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It’s hard to explain life growing up in a refugee camp.

In a way, as hard as it is, you grow up appreciating the smallest things – and seeing the value in everything you have.

So growing up in the camp, not having the smallest things come easy to you, sort of made me and my family appreciate what we have. And taught us from a young age in order to get what you want you have to work hard at it, so any small things that we had was from my Mum. 

She always tried to make sure we were fed and was always struggling to feed us; she would do anything to make sure we would have food in our mouths. 

As a kid I didn’t really see it at that time, what she had to go through. But growing up and actually going back to the camp and seeing how it is, I saw it from the other side, from her side and more of an adult side of things. 

The way my Mum helped us grow up she made us not think of anything, she made sure we had food and even if that meant she didn’t eat she would do that, she did anything necessary.

So for us as children it was a happy childhood but at the same time it was a childhood I’m also thankful for because it’s put some important values into my life.

Growing up under those circumstances, it kind of forces you to take the right path and learn from those opportunities and those lessons from a young age.

I remember going to school, but we’d tell our parents we’re going to school but once we hit the halfway point to school we’d turn around and go the other way and go play soccer all day and chill until the school time is over and then we’d go back home. 

Those memories always stick in my head with my friends just having fun and enjoying the time because really going to school there you have maybe 200 plus kids in one class and it’s difficult to learn and so the way we learned about life was through football and that’s what actually helped us get through our days and not be traumatized by the circumstances around us. 

Soccer, it was pretty much what everyone plays there. When you go into the camp in the afternoon everyone is out playing football and you can see how much it unites people there because there’s so many different tribes and nationalities in the camp.

They are playing together and that’s football, even sport in general just brings people together. 

It doesn’t matter what kind of sport, it’s like a world language, you don’t really have to talk that much with football you just express yourself. 

When I played football in the camp it was like a relief, it was like ‘Oh I’m not hungry anymore or I’m not needing shoes anymore’, it made everything else secondary. That’s the kind of feeling I got from it plus everyone is doing it so it just makes it even more fun.

When we received news about our immigration clearance, I was buzzing to go to Australia and to go to another place.

But it was so different to what I was used to, there are no people running or playing around and everyone’s houses are fenced off so you can’t talk to the neighbours.

The first couple of months I was like I want to go back because as a kid you just want to play and be outside all the time and when we came to Australia it was that transition to a different society where everything is more organised and structured. 

It took time but I slowly realised that it was a different culture and a different society that I had to adapt to and it was a big shock for me.

At the same time I love different things and that’s what I realised growing up – being in a different environment is what helps you grow, especially when you’re not in your comfort zone. 

Coming to Australia was something that I’m also very, very thankful for. I’ve spent half of my life in Australia and half of my life in a camp and I’ve got to see both sides of the world. And even though it’s difficult to see at the start, when you sort of step back and look at the bigger picture it’s amazing just how timing and different environments can be for you.

And for me, my path to Australia was to pursue my ambitions in football. 

In the camp you have maybe 20 or 30 kids or even more running after one ball and it’s not even a proper ball but when you get the ball you want to keep it as long as you can because that’s the only time you’ll probably get it until maybe 20 minutes later. 

Compared to Australia it was so different again, you play on grass, you play with a proper ball and you play with shoes on, those kind of things are like what is this?!

In the camp you play barefooted, you play without an even field where you don’t play on grass. So when I came to Australia I was like “Wow, now my dream can become true” and that’s when I put my head down and just worked hard to make sure that I represent for all of the kids in the camp that haven’t got the opportunity to chase their footballing dream.

I put that responsibility on me since I signed for my first club. And that’s what’s been keeping me going, I have this opportunity to carry the name for all those kids who have a dream of playing professional football. 

When I finally became a professional footballer I realised I can also be an example for all the Australian kids, that it doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you follow your dreams and work hard, everything will take care of itself.

It’s like I said before, earlier growing up in the camp and Australia getting to see both sides of things gave me some values as a kid and put some strong values into my head and especially from my Mum.

She really taught us important values of our life and that it’s important in life to be humble.

To take care of others; we’re always putting others first before ourselves and things like that, so those values have always been in my head and you have to always work hard if you want something and then when you get what you want or what you dreamt of you also have to remain humble.

Those values are learned growing up in the camp and then growing up in Australia where I was blessed with smallest things that I didn’t have in the camp. 

I know a lot of people can get very arrogant when they’ve made their debut and especially the way my debut went, I scored a goal on my debut and I could’ve been out their bragging… I could easily have lost track and that’s when it’s all over for me.

If anything I’m even more humble towards talking to younger kids, towards giving advice and making sure that they don’t look at me and go “Oh he’s a Socceroos player, I shouldn’t talk to him”.

I want to be that kind of person that although I do play soccer and I play for the national team at the end of the day I am still a person, I’m not any different to you and you can talk to me and if I can help you in any way then I’ll help you. That’s the kind of mentality I’ve always had and will continue to have.

I’m proud that I have gone on to use my platform to bring awareness to some social issues and help spread the message of mental health through my own challenge.

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It’s quite amazing because I see a lot of people and they’re struggling with just talking to people and I think the moment you start to open up, you can identify the problem and then you can move forward with it and fix the problem. 

But when you keep it inside of yourself and it doesn’t matter who you are, you could have everything in the world but if you keep everything inside and you don’t want to talk about things it’s going to come back to you one day. 

And I realised that there are many people struggling with this and I thought about what I can do to make sure I can spread this awareness for these people and for all the people that are struggling with this.

That’s how I came up with a celebration to represent that we are all with you and always there for you, all you have to do is talk or if you know someone who is struggling just ask the person next to you “Are you ok?” or “Is there something you’re struggling with?”, you don’t know how much that can help. Just small words can make a difference!

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I’ve always put others first and given my platform have tried to represent for everyone out there and that’s how it all started.

You see it in football too people need someone to talk to. Just over the last year and a bit I’ve been very open to talking to people and helping them open up. 

I’m usually a joker in the change room, I’m the one that likes to go around talking and making sure the vibe is good. At times I can see that some people are struggling to communicate in a group because a big group can affect you and I have come across where in some changing rooms, some groups won’t even talk to you. 

I think it was last year where some people tried to isolate me but that actually made me even more stronger. 

I was in Portugal on loan and it was hard to go to training and integrate because I didn’t know the language and there is a lot of cultural differences and that was a big, big learning for me. 

And then coming back and being in an English-speaking change room that sort of opened my eyes to be able to talk to people. And then the with quieter people you can actually make them even talk by just being there for them and that’s the kind of thing that I wanted show. I know a lot of kids in classrooms and schools are struggling with this. 

There are quieter kids and they’re not open in public but they will be open when they go to football training. And hopefully when they see someone playing professional football or something doing a celebration about awareness they can go and talk to their coach or they can go and talk to their teachers and say ‘Did you see the celebration Awer did?’, ‘It’s actually helping me now because of the message behind it, I can talk and he’s saying it’s ok’. 

I don’t want to change everybody but if I can help one person that’s enough, so that they can talk and be open.

It makes me smile how big it got, I never thought it would make such a difference to many people, I’ve received a lot of messages and people are doing it when they’ve scored too.

It’s been amazing to see how everyone has responded to it, it’s something that I didn’t plan for but people resonate with it. And I’m really grateful for everyone that’s getting behind it and spreading the message, making sure that everyone can be ok.