For MercyCare volunteer Philip Lako, the selfless gift of his time to help migrants settle in Western Australia was spurred by the harsh reality of his own youth.
Mr Lako suffered unbelievable hardship, brutality and abuse as a child soldier in South Sudan – taken at the age of 10 years by the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army under the guise of providing young people with an education.
He was held in captivity for several years and selected by the army for screening, but managed to escape to Kenya where he lived among 800,000 others in displaced people’s camps before the UNHCR relocated him to Australia in 2004.
Now, the Aveley father-of-three volunteers his time to assist several MercyCare programs, including teaching English and hosting safety inductions at MercyCare’s Community Support Program in Mirrabooka, as well as employment workshops at MercyCare’s community hub in Merriwa.
Mr Lako, whose parents still live in South Sudan and who lost four siblings due to impoverished conditions during the civil war, said refugees often became involved in caring professions such as nursing, aged care and social work to give back to those who had welcomed them.
He said tertiary qualified migrants often struggled to find jobs in their disciplines, causing high levels of distress amongst new arrivals.
“People feel like giving back and showing gratitude to society for the help they were provided during their settlement,” Mr Lako said.
“During my childhood I learnt that the process of giving was to sustain one’s life. If you didn’t give it may have been the difference between life and death. Sharing was very important.
“As human beings we should all do a little bit to help others and hopefully that person will reciprocate and help another and in doing so, the world will be a better place.
“MercyCare gave me the opportunity to talk to people who have recently come to Australia. I share my experiences with them and offer suggestions to help them feel more settled and supported in their new home.”
MercyCare Volunteer Services Coordinator Anne Ward said Mr Lako was an amazing role model for young migrants and refugees intent on improving their lives.
“Philip has travelled the road that many refugees have taken so he has extraordinary empathy and insight,” she said.
“He is genuine in his commitment to empowering young people and has demonstrated great honesty in sharing his story and life challenges to help inspire others and break the cycle of disadvantage.”
MercyCare Chief Executive Officer Chris Hall said MercyCare’s 175 volunteers were an integral part of the organisation, dedicating their time and expertise across many services including childcare, refugee and asylum seeker programs, youth services and residential aged care.
“We value greatly the MercyCare volunteers who selflessly give up their time to benefit the lives of others in our community,” Mr Hall said.
“Their contributions make very real differences to the lives of others and have meaningful impacts on individuals and our community.”
If you are interested in volunteering for MercyCare, please visit www.mercycare.com.au/volunteer