Kadiga and Youssif know how some people feel when they walk past their teenage children. It’s all over their TV screens and social media feeds.
Sometimes there’s a reminder in the glance from a shopkeeper, one that says “I’ve got my eye on you”.
It makes them feel on edge when their children are out and about in Melbourne.
“African kids are doing bad things sometimes, and they think all African kids are bad,” Kadiga says.
“Sometimes Australian people, if they see black kids, four or five of them, they think they’re [a] gang, they are scared.
“I feel sad, you can’t be happy. You trust your kids — but they don’t trust us African people.”
Her husband’s younger brother, Elssaied, nods.
“If you go in the city and they ask where you are from, I say Sudan, they are scared. Sometimes you’re scared to say I am from Sudan, maybe they will run away,” Elssaied says.
“Sometimes I say, Sunshine,” he says, referring to the suburb where they live in Melbourne’s west.
He laughs, but it’s not always something he can make light of.
One night in 2016, 19-year-old Mohamed, one of Kadiga and Youssif’s five children, was picked up by police investigating a stolen car.
Mohamed says he and his friends happened to be eating at a local fast food restaurant near their home when several police cars pulled up and arrested them.
“They said, hands up, don’t move out of the car,” Mohamed says. “At first, I thought it was a joke. Then I was angry.”
Mohamed says the group was told they were being arrested for armed robbery.
“They went to police station and slept there,” Kadiga says. “I called my son around one or two o’clock. He didn’t answer the phone, because the phone is with police.”
Their son was released the next morning without charge, but it left the family rattled.
Kadiga and Youssif are aware their parenting will play a big part in shaping their kids into good adults. Recently they’ve begun to reach out for help.
Raising a teenager is difficult full stop, but throw in starting afresh in a new country. The language is different. The culture is different. Schooling is different. Discipline is different.
How can they help their children when they’re struggling themselves?
Kadiga is part of a growing network of mums who aren’t shying away from tricky conversations. They meet regularly as part of a new women’s group, run by not-for-profit organisation Stand Up.
These mums want to be strong leaders for their children. But sometimes they can feel helpless themselves. Out of their depth.
Here, they work together to tackle the challenges of building a new life in Australia. They attend workshops that help build confidence in their parenting — basic English, their children’s homework, questions to ask in a parent-teacher interview, laws of the land and nuances of day-to-day society.
At one of the sessions, a mum admits her son didn’t want to go to school because he was being bullied. When the school called, she just said he was sick. Back in Sudan, that’s not the kind of conversation a mother would ever have with the principal. And even if she had wanted to talk it through, there was a huge language barrier that prevented her from doing so.
Another woman asks how she can help her child with their homework, if she can’t read properly herself.
On the other side of Melbourne’s suburban fringe, another group of African mums are talking about the same challenges of raising children in a country that’s very different from their own, and one where they sometimes feel like outsiders.
Here in Dandenong, Jewish organisers and volunteers bring together a group of mostly Islamic women within the walls of a Christian church.
One woman takes off her shoes and prays in the glow of a colourful stained-glass window, as others confide in one another during a leadership meeting in the next room.
“There are people doing bad things in our community,” one woman says. “But we can do something positive, we can show them the good things.”
Entisar takes charge of the conversation. She feels the weight of how her children are viewed by the media and broader society.
“We are parents like every parent in Australia. We waken our kids in the morning for school, we make them their lunches.
“We are not happy with what’s happening. But we have some good people here as well.”
She wants her kids’ future to include an abundance of opportunity. But right now more than anything she longs for them to be accepted.
“They are good kids. We would like them in the future to be recognised as Australian. Not as African or Sudanese.”
Kadiga unwraps fish, fried in a special African flour, and places it on the kitchen bench.
It’s too hard to set a dinner time. Instead, she makes an eat-as-you-please banquet. Most nights of the week she’s stretched by the demands of the kids’ schedules — basketball, soccer, Islamic lessons — routines she knows by heart.
Ravenous kids fill their bowls. The lounge-room heater is cranked, incense is burning, and the smell of freshly roasted peanuts seems to warm the crisp air.
Mohamed bounces in the back door. The family gather around him to look at his new steel-capped boots and high-vis shirt. There’s a buzz of excitement.
He’s about to start a traffic control course and the following week he’ll start work.
“I’m hyped up. I’ve got everything ready for it, I’ve got the map ready,” he says. “So I just can’t wait to start it tomorrow.”
He hopes it’ll help him fund another course later in the year that’ll lead him to his dream of becoming a flight attendant.
Mohamed can’t wait to travel.
“Because I speak Arabic I could work for Emirates,” he says. “I went to an open day and everything they talked about was interesting. Ever since that I’ve researched flight attendants and what they do and I liked it.”
These are the kind of opportunities Kadiga and Youssif could only dream of for their children. And it’s the reason why after fleeing war-torn Darfur, where the UN estimates up to 300,000 people have been killed since conflict began in 2004, they’re grateful to be in Australia.
But despite his efforts to make the most of the country his parents fought to come to 13 years ago, Mohamed is aware this is not the kind of image many people think about when they hear the term “African youth”.
“Only bad things, never good things. It’s not good,” he says.
“Sometimes if I’m walking with my friend, I’ll notice people crossing the road to avoid me. I get upset. I’m a good person. There’s no reason to be afraid of me. You shouldn’t stereotype people based on their looks. You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
But he tries not to let it bother him.
“You just have to move on,” Mohamed says. “I’m smart. I know how to interact with people. If I focus on that, I’m not going to focus on what I’m going to focus on.”
Mohamed and his mate are in and out of the kitchen. They pick up a basketball and tell Kadiga they’re going to the local basketball court.
His little brother and sister beg them to let them go too.
When they arrive at the concrete slab with a netless hoop, there’s already two other young blokes there.
Nothing is said at first.
The two pairs of teenage boys dance around each other in silence, navigating their turn at the ring.
A couple of minutes later “wanna play a game?”, Mohamed casually asks.
“Yeah”, one of the other teenage boys says.
That’s it. The game begins. No other words are spoken.
The company their kids keep is one of Kadiga and Youssif’s main concerns.
They’re determined for their children not to become part of a stereotype, driven by reports of an “African gang” problem.
Earlier this year, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said people in Melbourne were “scared to go out to restaurants” and more recently Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has reiterated that there is “real concern about Sudanese gangs” in Melbourne.
While only a small proportion of overall crime in Victoria is committed by a person from Sudan or South Sudan, crime statistics reveal their rate of offending is six times higher than their numbers in the broader population.
In the Brimbank local government area where Kadiga and Youssif’s family live, Sudanese teenagers committed 92 offences out of a total of 703 for that age group in 2016-17.
Kadiga acknowledges there’s a problem among some young people in the community. She worries about it.
“I worry that if they hang around with bad kids they can learn bad things,” Kadiga says.
“Because sometimes there are kids that are no good, and if my kids go with them they going to be like them or something like that,” Youssif adds. “Or if there are bad kids on the street, maybe they’re going to fight with my kids. So you just keep worrying until the child comes back home.”
One of their toughest challenges as parents is the approach to discipline in their new country. In Sudan, they would have smacked their children, they admit. Here that’s frowned upon.
But they also say it was a collective community responsibility to discipline their young people, and often when a child would misbehave they’d be sent to spend time with uncles, aunties or other elders, networks that no longer exist.
“Back home, every kid has to respect older people,” Youssif says. “Even at the shop, neighbours. They respect older people.
“And the older people respect the kids. If you see another person’s kids doing bad things, you come and say this is not good, they listen to you, even if you’re not related, they listen.
“Here you call the police.”
Eglal’s daughter has left the nest.
Among the mums’ group in Dandenong, she’s seen as one of the elders who can share her experience navigating the tricky teenage years.
Eglal chats with her friend Fatima during one of the Stand Up group women’s meetings. ABC News: Margaret Burin
When they first arrived in Australia, her family was overwhelmed by the vast differences. But at least, for a while, their family order was intact.
But as time went on, a wedge grew between Eglal and her teenage daughter. She’d been progressing in English at a greater pace and was becoming detached from Sudanese culture, Eglal says.
“After she started learning English and she knew more than me, she started to change. It was becoming very hard to manage.
“It was a big barrier for us because of the English, we don’t know how the system works here.”
An example is the day her daughter came home with a showbag about sex, including free condoms.
At the time, Eglal didn’t say anything. It was a shock and she didn’t know how to handle it.
“They’re not teaching these kinds of things back home. It’s forbidden to talk about it,” Eglal says.
“Now I understand what is going on, now my English has improved, I would talk to her and I would read all those papers and I would go to the school and say, if you want to teach this to our kids, there should be notice before and they should let us know how to deal with these things.”
Having since had many conversations with other mums, some who have had children go through the criminal system, Eglal believes some young people in the community struggle to deal with their new-found freedoms.
“For us as Sudanese immigrants, I believe where we come from we had no human rights and I do understand that some of the community have abused the system here in Australia,” she says.
“They are treating the freedom in the wrong way. They think if you’re free you can do whatever you want to do, but this is not the meaning of freedom.
“They don’t care about what their parents say to them, the respect has disappeared.”
Eglal believes that, coupled with punishment in Australia being too lenient, is the root of problems among young offenders.
“I think the punishment very soft with the jail. Not strong enough. This is why the kids don’t care and so they end up back inside again.
“Because everything is available there — medical, their own bed, their own bathroom, TV, activities. I don’t think there should be TV, no telephone, they should have to do a hard job.
“Back home, they sleep on the floor a hundred people in one room, there’s one bucket. Because they knew how hard it was when you were in jail, when you were outside you were never going to do a mistake again.”
It’s a tricky topic.
For Kadiga and Youssif, their focus is keeping their kids well away from trouble in the first place.
As they sip their cardamom-infused coffee, their two primary school-aged children opening their workbooks at their feet, they say keeping them busy is their strategy.
Monahil helps her younger brother Maha with his homework. He’s practising for the NAPLAN exam. What time does school start? How many cups fill this bucket? Spell “certain”?
When Maher completes his work, he takes it over for Youssif to sign. Youssif looks over it as his two-year-old Mortada climbs on his shoulders, squirming and giggling when Youssif kisses him on the cheek.
He’d love to be doing more than signing the homework planner.
“I don’t know how to tell them how to do homework. I can’t help them, they are a higher level for me,” Youssif says.
Instead, he says, all he can do is provide them with encouragement to work hard, and be supportive.
“If they’re working it’s good, because if they’re not working more trouble coming — hang out and hang around,” the kids’ uncle Elssaied adds. “We want to make them busy. They don’t have time to hang around.”
Yousiff and Kadiga are not focusing on what the ‘African youth’ of Australia are doing, or what is being said about them, or what people think about them. They’re too busy focusing on raising a good family.
But they’d be lying if they said they did not want other Australians to know that they’re trying. That they’re trying damn hard.
“I would like the people to know it’s not everyone the same,” Youssif says. “Some parents, they’re good. Some parents, they are not controlling their kids. So they don’t judge the other people too.”
Youssif and Kadiga have come from a very different country, and they’ve had to make huge adjustments to their family unit and the way it operates.
But when it boils down to it, their message to their five kids is no different from those of most other Australian parents.
It’s one of hope.
“I hope to my kids to have a good life and good education, like everyone does,” Youssif says. “That’s what I hope to my family. For everyone to have a good life and education.”