When Anna first returned to Sudan in 2006 she saw the schools of her childhood in ruins and the lack of educational opportunity for girls due to the devastation of a 20 year war. As a result, Anna became even more motivated to pursue her dream to give young women growing up in South Sudan the same opportunities she had had before the war.
So who is Anna Dimo?
Anna was born in Wau, in 1964. Her father was a School Principal who believed that girls should be educated. This was unusual because very few girls were given an education, even before the most recent war. Anna is the second eldest of seven children and had to work hard in the village – digging the garden, looking after the cows, making the bread, helping with the little children, carrying the water long distances on her head. But she loved to study. Her Primary years were spent in Wau, Maluek Alel and Nyamiel because her father was assigned to schools in these areas. Anna was a bright student and even in her Primary years was voted class leader.
She spent her secondary years in a boarding school in Wau (Years 7 – 9) and another boarding school in Towng (Years 10 – 12). During these years Anna was school captain and dux of the school.
In 1983 she graduated from Tonj Teachers Training Institute with a Diploma of Teaching. Anna married in 1985 when she was 18. Her first child, a daughter, was born in Wau in 1986. Anna continued to teach in Wau till 1987 when the impact of the war made it impossible for normal living to continue. Houses and buildings were being burnt and many people were killed in the raids. Often the schools, churches and hospitals were the focus of the bombing raids. Cattle and children were kidnapped and many people were killed. People had to stay in hiding so that they would not be killed by the bombs or by the soldiers. There was no food and everyone was always frightened. Many bodies were left unburied and vultures were common. Fear, trauma and tears were normal.
Anna, her husband and her new daughter fled to Khartoum where she was appointed Principal and Coordinator of Comboni Primary School under the Bishop of Khartoum. Many refugees came to Khartoum from Southern Sudan and forty-eight people were living in Anna’s house there. Trouble began with the government when an Islamic School was built next door to Comboni School and the children were told to move to this new school. Anna insisted that the Catholics needed to keep their faith and not be forced to follow Sharia law. The Comboni School was closed down.
In 1990 she had to flee once again because the government closed the Catholic Schools and it was unsafe for Christians to stay in the capital. Anna, with her four children, escaped under the pretext of illness, and went as a refugee to Egypt where she spent eleven years in Alexandria. Her husband was forced to stay in Khartoum. During this time Anna began her work as leader of Women’s Groups. Her leadership in encouraging and supporting women to be active within their community was to continue as a deep commitment all her life. Prayer groups, Legion of Mary, Craft, Outreach, Sacramental Preparation Groups and Retreats were all part of the Women’s Movement. In Egypt Anna also worked for the bishop of Alexandria as a Lay Missionary coordinating what education could be provided for the refugees as they awaited settlement in a new country.
In 1992, Anna’s brother-in-law died in Alexandria. Anna felt she had to take his body back to Khartoum so that he could be buried in Sudan. However, she was arrested as a spy because she had been shown on Cairo Television at a meeting with the SPLA leader, John Garang. Although already pregnant, she was thrown into a one-room prison with thirty-five other women. Heat, over-crowding, non-existent sanitation and lack of privacy made conditions shocking. After two months, her husband paid a bribe to help her escape back to Alexandria.
Meanwhile, Anna did not have any news of her parents and siblings in Southern Sudan. She had applied to UNHCR for refugee status and she was finally successful. In 2000 she arrived in Sydney with eight children, five of her own children and three nieces and nephews. She provided for her children by working as a cleaner and then in a nursing home. Everything was very difficult – she had no language, no knowledge of the money, no understanding of Australian culture and no experience in government assistance or budgeting. While working, she was studying English and working in a voluntary capacity helping new arrivals from Sudan settle into Australian life. Anna sponsored many Sudanese families to come to Australia. This meant that she had to fill in the necessary forms, send these forms to the UNHCR overseas, pay for the required medicals needed and for airfares. Altogether she sponsored thirty-two families – a total of seventy-two people. She had to house these new arrivals in her own home, feed them and get them to government agencies. Often she was in trouble with Estate Agents about over-crowding, but she knew that her help meant everything to the families in need.
Anna still had no knowledge of the whereabouts of her parents and siblings. In 2002, her brother-in-law phoned to say he had found them far from home, living by a river and in great need of medical assistance. They walked for many months and many miles to go from Sudan to Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya. At this time, Anna had lost contact with her family for seventeen years. In 2003, she sponsored her parents to Australia, where they now live with her.
In 2003, Anna began working as a teacher’s aide assisting the children in classes, interpreting for parents and providing counseling and family support. In 2009, Archbishop Pell appointed Anna Pastoral Care Worker for the Sudanese Australian Catholic Community. Anna has been the Chairperson of the Aweil Community in Australia and Leader of the Sudanese Women’s Group in NSW.
Anna is a woman of deep faith and her commitment to her community inspires those who meet her. We are working with her to raise funds to support the local Church in Aweil to build a secondary school for girls, so that there is equal opportunity for young women in shaping the future of South Sudan…Educate a woman, Educate a nation.
Media references to Anna Dimo
29 June 2011
Sydney Catholic – SSEG completes construction!
15 October 2010
Sydney Catholic News – SSEG construction
30 August 2010
Catholic Sydney – South Sudan girls education project
14 December 2004
Voice of America News
11 January 2004