Ayel Akot is a Melbourne based artist, dancer, and educator. She works tirelessly in her community to bring about change and improve quality of life for those who are facing disadvantage. Ayel migrated from Sudan when she was nine years old, speaking no English and knowing little about Australian life and culture. Her experiences engaging within the wider Melbourne community while maintaining strong ties to her Sudanese culture have inspired much of Ayel’s formal and volunteer work supporting African women and children.
Ayel has been a leading artist and teacher at Mzuri Dance for more than 10 years, working to create access to the arts for vulnerable and marginalised communities. Ayel’s performances with Mzuri Dance as well as Afrovival include Black Harmony Day, Big West Festival, the African Music Cultural Festival, Viva Victoria, the Hawthorn Football Club Family Day and Sidney Myer Music Bowl performances.
Ayel and fellow VOAV founder Suzie Watts, have collaborated on a variety of community projects, including facilitating a Life Skills Club in Fitzroy for four years and collaborating on workshops with the City of Yarra, Yarra Libraries, the Centre for Multicultural Youth, and the Australian Communities Foundation.
Ayel and her family was also instrumental in the establishment of the Sunshine (2008) and Fitzroy (2013) campuses of the Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning (SAIL) program which provides tutoring, homework, and social support services to Sudanese families. She continues to volunteer her time with this program weekly, providing support with family engagement and community liaison.
Within VOAV, Ayel is an organiser and facilitator of the Migrant Strengthening, Engagement and Arts (MSEA), W3P (Women’s Wellness and Wellbeing), and Migrant Women’s Support programs.
Apuot moved to Australia when she was 13 from Egypt. She attended language school for a year before starting high school St Alban’s Secondary College. Apuot remembers the challenges of engaging in an unfamiliar schooling environment with limited English and different social systems to what she was used to. Her experiences growing up in Melbourne inspired Apuot to volunteer time with the South Sudanese community providing advocacy, support, and guidance, particularly in relation to family engagement with education.
Apuot is currently studying a Certificate IV in Education Support at FFTA and Diploma of Project Management at Melbourne Polytechnic. She worked at Catholic Regional College as a Student and Family Engagement Officer for one year, before joining Richmond West Primary School in 2021. In these roles, Apuot works with families, principals and school teachers to monitor social, emotional and academic progress of students, as well as developing and implementing strength-based intervention strategies to support at-risk students to access the school curriculum and engage in schooling.
Apuot founded Nurturing Future Leaders, a social media platform which provides support to African parents with a range of complex and challenging issues, including supporting home learning, setting routines and expectations, and promoting responsibility and self-efficacy among young people. Apuot also provides assistance to African families with pre-settlement and post-settlement issues, including navigating Government and educational systems, where language and cultural barriers remain a significant barrier to effective service engagement.
Within VOAV, Apuot is an organiser and facilitator of the Nurturing Future Leaders (NFL), MSEA, and W3P (Women’s Wellness and Wellbeing) programs.
Suzie Watts is a practicing artist and teacher specialising in African regional music and dance with a passion for bringing people together through music, dance and story-telling. With a love for dance that began with after-school classes as a child, Suzie joined Peruvian folkloric dance and breakdancing crews in her teens, before studying a combined Bachelor of Dance and English at Deakin University. Since then she has undergone extensive dance and musical training, as well as professional tours in Africa, Europe and the United States.
Suzie founded Mzuri Dance in 1995 as a way to channel her love for dance and passion for social justice in the performing arts arena. Following years of mentorship and training from African community leaders and artists, Suzie has focused her energy in recent years working to deliver music and dance programs to African children and women in Fitzroy. Her classes and workshops are inspired by a diverse range of classical, folkloric, and contemporary dance, and also incorporate yoga, breathwork, and meditation. Practicing through a trauma-informed lens, Suzie is passionate about the power of dance and music as an avenue for cultural and personal expression, while promoting a sense of belonging, strengthening relationships, maintaining health and wellbeing, and achieving social equity.
Within VOAV, Suzie is an organiser and facilitator of the Migrant Strengthening, Engagement and Arts (MSEA) and W3P (Women’s Wellness and Wellbeing) programs and Migrant Women's Support programs.
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