The Refugee Roadtripping Through Regional Australia To End Racism

Prudence Melom was just four years old when she and her family fled their home in Chad.

For Prudence's mother, abandoning her home and the only country she'd ever known was an extremely difficult decision, but the family was out of options.

A war had broken out in Chad, and Prudence's father, a politician who spoke out against the local government, had been shot by police and taken away.

Alone and just 22 years old, Prudence's mother gathered her children and left everything behind in order to protect them.

Prudence Melom. Image: Facebook.

In the refugee camp, the family had no shelter and would often go three days without eating a single meal.

After several days of famish, Prudence's mother would sell her clothes to make sure she had money to buy food for the children.

"Life in the refugee camp was so hard. You had to have tough skin to survive and many people did not make it out of there," Prudence told 10 daily.

Prudence and her mother pictured. Images: Facebook.

Unlike other refugee kids, Prudence's parents enrolled her and her siblings into school, which at the time was thought of a privilege reserved for boys.

Still, the children had to make the tiring two-hour, one-way trek before they reached the school gates.

After two years of being holed up in a refugee camp, the family received a shock arrival: Prudence's father.

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"One day the officers from the camp came looking for us. They told us there was a man looking for us who knew our names and our story, and this man turned out to be my father," Prudence told 10 daily.

"We were able to stay in the refugee camp together hoping one day we’d make it out.

"We got rejected by many countries but eventually after seven years we got accepted into Australia. That’s why we’re in Australia now, we were fleeing for our safety and now we’re here and able to live our lives peacefully."

When Prudence first arrived in Toowoomba in 2007, she only knew one word of English: thank you.

Image: E-Raced website.

"The only word I knew was thank you and I thought thank you meant hello and so I went around thanking everybody thinking that I was greeting everyone, which was such an awesome start to my life in Australia," Prudence said.

Now 23 and the founder of advocacy group E-Raced, Prudence is just a year older than her mother was when she fled Chad.

She launched E-Raced in 2015 after experiencing racism first-hand, and has since set up offices in Mount Gambier and Toowoomba.

In the heartland of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, she hopes to encourage school kids to celebrate difference and diversity.

Prudence Melom. Image: Facebook.

With a team of 25 storytellers, Prudence has made it her mission to conquer racism by training refugees to share their stories in schools throughout rural Australia.

Quoting Michelle Obama, who once said "it's hard to hate up close", Prudence believes that racism is born out of "the fear of the unknown".

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She told 10 daily that many of the school children she's spoken to in Queensland have never met someone of African descent, and some still believe that Africa is a nation rather than a continent.

"Initially when they see us, they’re so close-minded, they don’t want to hear us, they don’t want to participate," Prudence said

"Once they hear our stories, they realise that we’re all the same, that we’re all human and they become so appreciative of our struggles and our experiences and it definitely creates mutual respect."

Image: Facebook.

At one of the first schools the team visited, a boy told Prudence that refugees and migrants were "a waste of space and they should go back to where they came from".

But after hearing Prudence's story, the boy later apologised and admitted he'd had no idea what she'd been through.

Prudence believes that politicians like Pauline Hanson "feed into racism" and perpetrate negative stereotypes.

"They’re in a position of power where their supporters are listening and whatever they say goes a long way," she said.

"Someone like Pauline Hanson, what if one day she meets a group of young people like us who are putting our stories out there so young people know the truth? Know our struggles, our journeys and know we’re not here to cause trouble and we’re not here to steal their jobs.

"It would really make a difference."

Contact Eden on Twitter @edengillespie