“It was long and challenging,” Zac Panyar says of his journey from South Sudan to Australia. “I had to flee my country of birth with my family because of war.” The story of Zac and his family’s journey and all refugees alike is an important one to tell. The life they had before, and the way they rebuild. Stronger, and more resilient in the face of adversity.
In the future, Zac aspires to be “an advocate for refugees and work with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees).” However, right now, he’s already doing the work. By sharing his story. As a model. A semi-professional footballer. And a voice of change.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALICE WESLEY-SMITH
Tell us about your journey from South Sudan to Australia.
Zac Panyar: “We fled to the neighbouring country, Kenya, and it was really hard for us there because of the language barrier and other differences. We stayed there for a while before finally moving to Australia.”
What was your first impression of Australia?
ZP: “The diversity, multiculturalism, and its landscape. The Australian landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. The nature, wildlife, and beaches here are amazing. I love it.”
What are your memories of the South Sudanese nature and landscape?
ZP: “There are rivers, hills and mountains in some parts of South Sudan. There’s hardly any rain there and the vegetation consists of savanna grasslands and other types. I used to look after my family’s livestock - cows and goats - when I was a young boy, way before I started school. I would take the cows to graze from morning till evening. I really enjoyed taking the cows through the savanna grasslands because I had a lot of time to play with my friends and young brothers.”
You are a semi-pro footballer. When did you first discover football?
ZP: “When I was about 11, my uncle bought me a football jersey and it was Wayne Rooney’s number 10, with a soccer ball as a present. I played my first game in primary school, and I’ve been in love with the game of football ever since.”
Where do you play now?
ZP: “I’m currently playing for Western Condors FC in Sydney.”
How were you discovered as a model?
ZP: “I was discovered via Instagram by an agency abroad. I then reached out to an actual modelling agency here [in Sydney] and went on from there.”
How has modelling affected your life?
ZP: “It’s taught me to be patient and to embrace things, the good and the bad. I’ve had lots of opportunities and new experiences with lots of different people. It requires a lot of hard work and dedication.”
What do you dream of?
ZP: “I want to be an advocate for refugees and work with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees).
What do you wish people knew about a refugee's journey?
ZP: “I wish that people knew refugees often face incredible dangers and hardships during their journeys. They may be fleeing war, persecution, or other forms of violence, and may have to leave behind everything they know and love. Many refugees end up in overcrowded and under-resourced camps, where they may face further challenges like lack of access to basic needs, education, and good healthcare. Despite all of this, refugees are often incredibly resilient and resourceful and can make meaningful contributions to their new communities if given the opportunity.”
What is your hope for the future?
ZP: “My hope for the future is that people can live peacefully and sustainably. Let’s take care of the earth, it’s oceans and vegetation.”
What’s next for Zac Panyar?
ZP: “To start a charity/foundation in the future in South Sudan to help those in need. It’s all about giving back. I know what it’s like over there.”