MELBOURNE, Australia, 20 March 2016 (UNHCR) – Arriving in Melbourne unable to speak, read or write in English hasn’t stopped Abe Nouk from immersing himself in Australian society, becoming a role model and a powerful voice for youth and multiculturalism. After fleeing South Sudan in 1999 and spending four years in Egypt, Abe, his mother and seven siblings were resettled by UNHCR to Australia in 2004.
In the early days of his time in Melbourne, reading and language were a huge part of Abe’s transition. “I lusted for books, even ‘The Cat in the Hat,’” he says, grinning. Now a spoken word artist, Abe’s eloquence and energy has inspired young people and others across the country, encompassing contemporary social issues as well as his own experiences of coming to Australia as a refugee.
His award-winning contribution to the 2013 National Australian Poetry Slam, “To Be a Poet” is a personal reflection on his journey, written to his late father. “Dear Dad,” it begins, “9 years of illiteracy and now I can finally write to you. There is so much to say and it’s a cliché, but would you believe it? I’m on a stage right now.”
These days, Abe is working on a novel, three poetry collections, and is the founder of Creative Rebellion, a 24-hour recording space and studio for youth. “It is not so much the freedom of speech, it’s about the speech worth hearing,” says Abe. “Slam poetry begs individuals to voice their stories, you have to give yourself permission to speak. Mine has risen out of the need to express the burden of my gratitude.”
As Australia celebrates cultural diversity through Harmony Day today, Abe sees his new home as “exactly what the world should imitate when we’re talking about living harmoniously with each other.” Asked about the need for greater cross-cultural understanding, he adds “Peace isn’t created, it is lived by understanding that someone else cannot represent an enemy if you step forth and extend a hand. Strangers are only a handshake away from becoming friends.”