As a little boy, hiding under a blanket in the Sudanese bush to escape rebel gunfire, Juma Abbas never imagined he’d live to see a peaceful life.
“At least once a month rebels would come and take what they could from the village. They were taking young boys from 8-15 years of age, and turning them into themselves,” Juma said.
“Once you’re 16 you know too much.”
Born into a brutal civil war where resistance was met with a bullet, he fled with his family at just four years old to a refugee camp in Uganda.
His father was separated from the group in the fray, eventually finding them after three long years.
“There were no toilets just long drops and no clean water. There were just three bore holes for a population as big as Wagga,” Juma said.
“You’d have to get up early and line up, some of us would travel 10 miles to go get water and have it carry it back on your head.”
Rebel soldiers sometimes raided the camps hunting for child soldiers.
To get by and communicate with the many nationalities living inside, Juma learned over seven languages.
This was life for nine years, until finally, supported by a family friend they met in the camp, two years of applications opened up a passage to Australia.
A 15-year-old boy with no English, his first year at Wagga High was a challenge. But as he settled in, he never forgot where he came from.
“Hearing gunshots in Kapooka just reminds me,” he said.
“I tried to join the army and mum said no, this is the reason we moved from that place.”
Instead, he forged a different path. Now a fourth-year apprentice at Laser Plumbing Wagga, he’s hoping to use his skills to help improve sanitation in the very camp he grew up in.
“I want to go home and try help and offload my knowledge to someone else that can use it and try to make things better over there,” he said.
Juma will complete his apprenticeship this December, and his boss Greg Charleston says he’s a credit to his community.
“When we hired him Gil Mathew said he was one of the best workers they’d had for 20 years,” he said.
“He’s a very good worker.”
While he’s planning on heading home during the holidays, Wagga won’t be losing its star plumber any time soon. Juma says the local community have embraced him.
“The way things were back home I didn’t even think I’d be breathing, I’d never picture I could get to this point.”
“Wagga’s very friendly and where I’m working, the boys here made me feel really welcome and made it easy for me to just fit in with the rest of them.