Newsboys Foundation 125 Years 7 When chatting with Akat Mayoum, it can be easy to forget you’re talking to a 21-year-old. He has a wisdom and perspective that only makes sense when you hear his story and realise how much life he has lived. Relaxing in a café at La Trobe University, where he is studying international relations, Akat has poise and confidence, even as he discusses the racism that is still all too common for a South Sudanese refugee living in Australia, and the wider problems facing many young men from that background. Akat admits there was a time when he stood at a fork in the road where he could have failed to acclimatise to his new life in Melbourne and gone off the rails, or not. He was nine when his parents asked Akat’s uncle and aunty to include him in their plans to leave the South Sudanese war zone. He found himself in Egypt in 2004, before the family received humanitarian visas to come to Australia a year later. Aged nine, he found himself in Sydney and finally Melbourne, a boy removed from his parents, and trying to fit into a culture he didn’t understand, without the language skills to connect with even the children around him. Which is where the story becomes unlikely and slightly magical because it was the sport of cricket that saved him. “The assistant principal at my school, Matt Shawcross, was also a coach at the local cricket club and he suggested I come down and try to play,” Akat recalled. “I’d seen cricket on television and liked it but didn’t have an opportunity to play so I went to the Sunshine Heights Cricket Club.” Joining the club was a revelation for an angry, lost 12-year-old battling to fit into his first year of high school. Akat walked into a club that is dedicated to social cohesion, with a diverse group of nationalities and backgrounds all working together to play the game. “It was seamless for me to fit in,” Akat said. “Matt got a few South Sudanese kids into the sport. He had good relationships with the parents, so he’d pick us up, drop us back home, and make sure it wasn’t a financial burden on the families.” “Cricket was really important to help find my way in Australia,” he said. “You make new friends, and it’s a humbling game sometimes. You get people from different backgrounds but it’s a level playing field. Colour, race, religion, ethnic background, none of that really matters. A lot of the issues I had started to go away.” But it was about to get even more amazing. Another local cricket identity had taken note of this newcomer to the sport. Swan Richards is the founder and director of the Crusaders, an organisation of volunteers dedicated to helping the development of young cricketers who might otherwise not be able to improve because of financial or social constraints. He applied for, and received, a Newsboys Foundation grant enabling Akat to join a Crusaders European tour in 2011, meaning Akat would be part of a cricket touring party of 40. Akat credits that Newsboys Foundation grant and the tour for having taught him many essential life skills; from being part of a group, to developing a wider world view, to basics like negotiating airports, currencies or learning how to do his laundry from the older players. One night, in an English pub, Akat was racially vilified by a local and he was mortified, stung and inconsolable. He says the way the Crusaders banded around him, and let him know he was accepted, was an important moment in his life. The 2011 Crusaders played matches in Italy and England, including a match against a Royal XI at Windsor Castle’s oval. Akat was the last man in batting that day, swung wildly to try to hit a six and was clean bowled. Moments later, they all lined up to meet The Queen herself, and Her Majesty’s first question to Akat was: “Were you the one who got bowled at the end there?” Five years after fleeing South Sudan, Akat was questioned by The Queen about his batting technique. Now, as a university student calmly settled into his adopted country, he can laugh about it. Newsboys Foundation supported Akat Mayoum’s 2011 cricket tour to Europe via a grant to Crusaders Cricket Australia. Crusaders supports young people to play the game. Visit: Newsboys Foundation has supported Sunshine Cricket Club Since 2006 to help young people engage with the game. Visit: How Akat met The Queen Five years after fleeing South Sudan, Akat Mayoum was questioned by The Queen about his batting performance at Windsor Castle