Creative arts & culture,

Meet the Gold Coast family that survived a genocide

Achati tells her story in Finding Home

Olivia Gane | July 12, 2022

Finding Home: Journeys of Hope. In this three-part series we will meet three courageous families who call the Gold Coast home after experiencing extreme adversity in their own countries.

Finding Home Series, Part 1: Achati and Emmanuel

It’s no secret that the Gold Coast is widely renowned as one of the world’s most beautiful and liveable destinations, with a landscape rich in diversity which draws people from all walks of life. It is also a community that offers robust local support and safety; two imperative conditions for our growing population of immigrants, and particularly those seeking urgent refuge.

According to the most recent population data, approximately a third of Gold Coast residents were born overseas (higher than the overall portion of Queenslanders). Unfortunately, not all these residents had the luxury of choice.

For people like Achati and her son Emmanuel, who are beyond grateful for our welcoming community and incredible Gold Coast lifestyle, it is the strength of faith, the love of family, and the courage to keep going that grounds them in their new chapter here, with us.

In 2003, the people of Gambela, Ethiopia experienced the horrific genocide of nearly all the male members of their community, led by Ethiopian soldiers. The soldiers tore through the village of Pinyudo where Achati, her husband and village Pastor Okwier, their daughter Anna and four sons: Emmanuel, Israel, Ebenezer and Pwoch lived.

Fortunately, the children were all elsewhere at the time of the attack, but Okwier was not so lucky. A compassionate man who believed in safety and equality for all, Okwier was brutally murdered by the invading soldiers in front of Achati and other family members.

Achati’s family found themselves on the run, moving through refugee camps in Kenya, Nairobi, and finally Dadaab. She was desperate to feed her starving children, living off donations from the church and constantly worrying for their wellbeing. Every fortnight, Achati made the gruelling eight-hour bus trip to the UNHCR camp, where she would wait in a line of hundreds and beg for the family to be reunited with her daughter in the USA.

After six tiresome years of hope and no gain, the family’s luck finally started to change. Emmanuel, one of her eldest, was granted a scholarship to study in Canada. Not long after, in 2010, Achati accepted the offer to go to Australia – a country she had never heard of. Finally, the UNHCR confirmed that her sons could join her.

Achati with her family

The book Finding Home: Journeys of Hope is available from the Multicultural Families Organisation

Speaking with mother and son twelve years on, you really couldn’t find a more grounded and positive pair.

Musician Emmanuel is a man of strong faith and community values. At 36, he is committed to serving those in need, his family, and building a life with his fiancé – a fellow member of the Anuak community on the Gold Coast. Encouraged by an experience with a struggling friend whilst studying in Canada, Emmanuel began a noble career in mental health studies.

“My family always wanted me to come over here, and then this happened. Then Covid hit, and I had to stay. Now there’s new opportunities.

“Things can happen in a bad way, but they can turn out good in the end, and that’s the hope we have.”

Emmanuel explains the background to his nickname, ‘Eman the Warrior’.

“When I was in college and used to do music, one of the song’s titles was ‘I am a Warrior.’ It’s not to say that we went to war, it’s to show that every life is a struggle, and everything we come across is a war… so it’s like saying everyone has a battle in this world.”

Emmanuel also wrote a song with a corresponding music video, titled, ‘On the Go,’ which was forged from his experience.

“Music is my hobby, but you have to do something meaningful, not just luxury… so I only do that part time,” he explains.

“I do work as a support worker and I also do other small things here and there to cover some expenses. I work with people with autism and a lot of them with mental illness.

“My first job here was working at The Migrant Centre Organisation Inc. helping other migrants to settle, or find a job, or make a resume, as a lot of them don’t know how to, or find a house or be with their family.”

Achati is just as active in the community, helping out other women and immigrants in the community through The Multicultural Families Organisation. When they aren’t at church, helping others, or simply soaking in the beauty of the beach, the family are always spending time together:

“We see them every day,” laughs Achati. As for what she loves about the Gold Coast?

“The weather (laughs) is a lot like my country- very similar. And secondly, the people…They assist me with many things; they’re encouraging me. When I first came here I was struggling and crying a lot, and they were guiding me into the community…

“Lovely people, a lovely government. Now we’re happy like we were in our country. I’ve got friends, I’ve got a case worker, and I’ve got a church family. They are very lovely people.”

“I think everything is a lesson,” muses Emmanuel. “We all go through something. Everybody you meet has a story to tell, and we have our own ups and downs. When each door closes, a better one opens. That’s what we believe in.

“It can be really tough with what happened. Like my mum, when the genocide took place, she lost eight family members in one second. So it’s really hard in the moment, but then God turns things in different ways… things can happen, but then they can turn around and bring in good results.

“So I think we just take every opportunity; anything that comes our way. All the stones that are thrown at us, we use them to build a house or build something strong.”

The story of Achati and her family are told in more depth in Finding Home: Journeys of Hope, an anthology of true stories collated and published by the Multicultural Families Organisation on the Gold Coast.

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