Juma leads the way for new beginnings
Imagine that you are sitting down to dinner and suddenly you hear gunshots. It’s dark and you can’t tell where the shots have come from but you know they’re close. Like so many times before, and just like your parents have shown you, you grab a blanket and run to the bushes. Covering yourself and lying on the ground like a log, you hear the shooters walking by, looking for their prey. You stay as still and as quiet as you can, knowing that if there is a baby nearby, and it cries, your hiding spot may be found. Now imagine having to think like this as a six-year-old.
This was the reality for Wagga Wagga plumber, Juma Abbas for 12 years.
Born in Sudan, Juma’s parents, escaping the famine and civil war, made their way to a refugee camp on the border of Sudan and Uganda. There for three years, the family were relocated to another refugee camp in East Uganda as the war moved closer to the border.
But that refugee camp didn’t provide a safe haven either and the family did all that they could to ensure that their future would be one of opportunity.
With his six siblings, Juma attended school in the camp, learning seven languages including basic English. All while waging a battle of survival with a shortage of food, poor water sanitation and rebels attacking the camps regularly, looking for young boys to kidnap and use as child soldiers.
Through a family friend that they met in the camp, they received support, enabling them to apply for residency in Australia. After nine years in the camp, multiple interviews from immigration officials and 12 years of running away from the war, Juma and his family relocated to the regional city of Wagga Wagga.
Fast forward to 2017 and Juma is now an integral part of the Laser Plumbing team, led by Greg Charleson.
Joining the business after completing secondary school, Juma has recently finished his plumbing apprenticeship and is currently studying for his plumbing license at night.
Originally thinking he wanted to be a soldier, Juma’s mum was adamant that he find another career. Thinking back to the issues in camps created by poor water quality and lack of sanitation, Juma knew that a way he could make a difference was to become a plumber.
Owner of Laser Plumbing Wagga Wagga, Greg Charleson heard about Juma through a friend who had employed Juma while he was still at school. Describing Juma as the best employee he had had in 20 years, Greg knew he had to meet this young man. Especially when he found out about Juma’s desire to become a plumber.
“He was working in a local steelyard as a labourer when I first met him,” says Greg. “Knowing the owner of the company, I knew that he wouldn’t be there if he wasn’t a good worker. Add to that my first impression which was simply that he seemed like a really good fella, I knew I had to give him a go.”
While Juma’s long-term goal is to return to Sudan and teach others about the importance of water sanitation and how to install plumbing, he is appreciative of the opportunities he has been given. So much so, that he is involved with local programs, helping other African refugees become a part of the community through sporting events and multi-cultural workshops.
“It’s hard moving to a new country but, the opportunities that we have here are great. We can achieve so much as long as we try our best and don’t give up” says Juma.
His positive attitude and desire to make a difference are having a profound impact on those around him, including his family with Juma’s 11-year-old nephew now wanting to be a plumber, just like his uncle.
Reflecting back to when he first arrived in Australia and was amazed by our houses having their toilets inside, and that they flushed, reminds us of just how lucky we are to be in Australia. And it's Juma’s gratitude for the opportunity and his attitude to work that is making him an asset to Australia and the plumbing industry.