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From Sudan to Toowoomba: Friendship inspires University journey

A true 'you got a friend in me' story.

Friendship is the cement that holds the world together – and that is certainly true for Sisilia Ajang and Mary Wagner.

Mrs Ajang had arrived in Toowoomba from Sudan when she first met Mrs Wagner, a philanthropist and local identity.

In a new culture, and with four children to care for, Mrs Ajang said she faced down many obstacles with Mrs Wagner by her side.

“Back at home I did my education in Arabic and didn’t have a background in English,” Mrs Ajang said.

“So when I came here, I wasn’t able to speak with my friend Mary, but I learned the language gradually.

“We would always have fun, even when I didn’t know English – she would come to my house and ask what I needed.”

Mrs Ajang had big aspirations, but concern for her sister in Sudan occupied her thoughts.

“Mary asked me what was on my mind,” Mrs Ajang said.

“I told her that my sister and her family were struggling and I was always thinking about them.

“She put in a big effort to bring my sister and her family here – and that allowed me to recover.

“After that, I said ‘I want to go university’.”

It wasn’t long until Mrs Ajang was on the path to achieving her dreams, enrolling in a Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Southern Queensland.

It was during this time Mrs Wagner gave her a valuable piece of advice.

“She said to me ‘If you find something hard, and put the thought in your mind that you can’t do it – then you won’t be able to do it, you will be defeated,” Mrs Ajang said.

“But if you say - I will do it, and keep preparing and work hard – you can achieve anything.

“When I started my degree, the first book I had to buy was on anatomy. It felt like it weighed five kilos and it contained complicated pictures and scientific language.

“But I remembered what Mary told me, so I just sat down and started to look at it – and Mary was right.”

Last month, Mrs Wagner was in the crowd as Mrs Ajang crossed the stage at the University of Southern Queensland’s winter graduation ceremony.

“Mary was beside me the whole time,” Mrs Ajang said.

“She is the reason why Toowoomba stands out from other communities in Australia; she really worked to make Toowoomba welcoming for us.

“I was very lucky to choose the University of Southern Queensland; there was plenty of support. All you have to do is ask and you get the help you need.”

Mrs Wagner said she very proud of the achievements of Mrs Ajang and her family.

“She’s worked very hard – it’s been a big success story,” Mrs Wagner said.

“Sisilia and her family are an asset to our community and have, themselves, helped many others.”

Next week marks the start of the University of Southern Queensland’s 2021 Ipswich Spring Graduation Ceremonies, where hundreds of students will celebrate their academic achievements with family and friends.

Ipswich Spring Graduation Ceremonies.

What: Ipswich Spring Graduation Ceremonies
When: September 29 – 30
Where: Ipswich Civic Centre, Ipswich

women smiling
Sisilia Ajang and Mary Wagner at the Toowoomba Graduation Ceremony.