Akec Makur Chuot is a former refugee and professional football player, currently playing for Hawthorn in the AFLW.
Akec came to Australia in 2005 after growing up in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where she says she had a normal childhood despite the circumstances.
“We went to school because UNHCR and other agencies were there to provide opportunities for children and young people,” she says.
“We went through life as normal kids but of course we weren’t the ones bearing the brunt of the situation.”
Akec’s mum, Helena, had to work hard to build a life for her family in Kakuma. She started a restaurant to earn money and support her children. Akec would race home from school to help her mum, who she says made many sacrifices so they could have a good standard of living.
“My mum is selfless. She did all her work without complaining. She didn’t speak English but she learnt. She is a very versatile woman who took every opportunity she could,” Akec says.
In the camp, Akec says there was a traditional view of gender roles in sport.
“It was a culture where women predominantly don’t play sports. I grew up being told off for playing soccer so I would make up every excuse under the sun just to carry my brother’s soccer boots, just so I could feel included,” she says.
It wasn’t until Akec moved to Australia that she realised she could find belonging and eventually a livelihood in sport.
She first fell in love with AFL by attending West Coast Eagles games in Perth. After cutting her teeth in smaller AFL divisions, she was drafted in the inaugural draft of the AFLW on to play for Fremantle in 2017. In doing so, she became the first woman of African descent to play AFL at a national level, something that she’s very proud of.
“To be the first African woman to play in the AFL, that’s something that just doesn’t happen overnight. To be a girl from Kakuma refugee camp playing sport and doing something she loves in Australia is just incredible,” she says.
Akec has played 33 national level AFLW games for three teams across two states since 2017. In a twist of fate, Akec’s traditional Clan is called the Lith People which translates to ‘hawk’. She now plays for the Hawthorn Hawks. “I can say that I have been a hawk all my life,” Akec says.
For Akec, a sense of belonging has come from her fans and supporters.
“Football was able to give me a sense that, no matter where I come from, I can belong when I play. I turn up and play the game and the team’s supporters will cheer me on. And that makes me represent my team so proudly.”
Watch Akec’s story now: From Refugee to the AFLW - Meet Akec Makur Chuot
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