Warm Taree welcome for Zacharia

Rotarians Alan Tickle, Laurie Easter and Maurie Stack, with Janet Dyne, Rotarian Dusty Walkon, Zacharia Machiek, Greater Taree City Council mayor Paul Hogan and general manager Gerard Jose. Alan Small photo

Rotarians Alan Tickle, Laurie Easter and Maurie Stack, with Janet Dyne, Rotarian Dusty Walkon, Zacharia Machiek, Greater Taree City Council mayor Paul Hogan and general manager Gerard Jose. Alan Small photo

ZACHARIA Machiek's story has a lasting impact on everyone who hears it and despite being apprehensive about sharing his past, he's learnt to use it as a tool to help others.

Zacharia was just four years old when his mother died and within six years his father had been taken from him as well.

He grew up in a small village called Abyei Achock in South Sudan, an area that was constantly caught in the middle of fighting.

Rebels eventually came to the village and shot everyone they could find as well as setting fire to the homes.

Fortunately, Zacharia fled the village that day but he did return and witnessed the atrocities that had taken place.

Soon after the raid, he joined the Sudan People's Liberation Army and to this day he is grateful for that decision.

"It was the first time in my life that I had felt safe and it was the first time I was given an education," explained Zacharia.

"The movement taught us that it was not our war to fight, not the physical war anyway. They told us that our war would come and we would instead be fighting for education and rights for our people, particularly the children."

Zacharia eventually came to Australia as a refugee in 2003 and over the years he has forged a life for himself here, getting married and welcoming two children.

He is currently completing certificates III and IV in community services at TAFE and hopes to go on to a diploma so he can continue on his path to help others.

He said until he had come to Australia he had no idea about the country he was moving to and never knew there was a place in the world "where people are happy and welcoming and they care about each other".

"Australia has so much good will, the people here are lucky but they also care about others and they want to help where they can," he said.

It was through his TAFE course that he met teacher Janet Dyne, who encouraged him to share his story and use it to help others.

Together they formed the 'Hope Road' Walk for South Sudan and with the help of Rotary the pair are walking from Tweed Heads to Sydney in 40 days, sharing Zacharia's story and raising money to build a primary school in South Sudan.

The first part of the project requires $60,000, while the total cost and overall aim is to raise $300,000.

Zacharia knows only too well the importance of education and what it will mean for future generations.

"It's about giving the children knowledge and power to help themselves," Zacharia explained.

"If we'd had education, we'd never have had a civil war that killed millions."

Zacharia hoped that people would see the children of South Sudan through his own story and when he arrived in Taree on Tuesday night he was greeted by local members of Rotary as well as Greater Taree City Council mayor, Paul Hogan and general manager, Gerard Jose, who were touched by his words, how far he had come and were more than willing to donate.

"The people of Taree have been very welcoming and supportive," he said.

"I can't thank them enough for their donation and the barbecue they provided me.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you for the generosity."

If you would like to find out more about Zacharia or you'd like to donate to his cause, visit www.ssoe.org.au and you can also follow the walk on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HopeRoadProject/

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