From tragedy and near destitution in her homeland of Zimbabwe to hope and a new life here in Taree, Respect Shockson is an amazing woman with an equally amazing story to tell.
Hi Respect. How long ago did you and your family arrive in the Manning Valley?
Originally from Zimbabwe, my husband and I, together with our four children, arrived in Taree 12 years ago, having made the decision to move to Australia so we could have the chance of a better life and more opportunities. When we arrived, I was pregnant with our youngest son.
I am currently working as a Registered Nurse while taking care of my youngest son, who is still at home. The other kids are all in Sydney, working or studying. My husband holds a Doctorate in Clinical Forensic Psychology.
Your journey before coming to Australia was quite difficult, starting in Zimbabwe with the trauma of losing your father when you were only 13 years old. Can you tell us about that difficult time in your life and how it set you on the path to eventually ending up here in Taree?
My journey from Zimbabwe was full of excitement and fears. I left Zimbabwe in 2005 with my husband and kids, going to Cape Town in South Africa. My husband was on a student visa, going to study his PHD in Clinical Epidemiology at Cape Town University. It was my first time moving away from my family and extended family to live in a foreign land.
Growing up in Zimbabwe was full of challenges. When I was young, everything was great. My father was a headmaster at our local primary school, a business man and a commercial farmer. He owned a grocery store and bottle shop in our village. He was a hardworking man and always made sure that we were not lacking anything. My father had two wives, which is culturally accepted in our country. My mother was a second wife.
Unfortunately, my father died when I was only 13 years old. I was in Year 8 at boarding school. That is when our world turned upside down. My mother was 35 years old and had six children, five girls and one boy. I am the second born.
My stepmother chased us out of our father’s house and put us in a small hut to live. It was very crowded, but we were only allowed to bring a few belongings. We were also given three months to build our own home and move out of that hut, and we did not have any money. We started moulding bricks to build a new round hut, but when the time came to move into it, our hut was not finished and unfortunately, we had to move into our roofless hut.
Not having food, enough clothes and being chased away from school because I was not able to pay school fees was now our normal new life. Seeing my mother disrespected, threatened and emotionally abused by my stepmother and her kids was a common occurrence. Our Pastors helped us with food and school fees, and the new headmaster allowed me to be at school up until I finished ordinary level. My mother failed to raise examination fees. My high school headmaster paid my registration fees on the last day, but it was embarrassing, and I was emotionally hurt.
My father’s shop and bottle store were still running, and it was located close to our high school. School kids were buying lunch at our shop. Sometimes I would go there with my friends and just stand there looking at food, thinking I might get recognised and be given food.
These changes in my life happened very suddenly, and it was hard to deal with – from being a happy, intelligent child at boarding school down to being homeless, not having enough food and struggling to pay school fees. This became the part of my life which I’m never able to tell anyone without shedding tears. There were no counsellors to help us cope with the situation. Our church and our mother became the only pillars of support.
Through all this suffering, we all remained at home supporting our mother. We learnt to accept the new life and lived happily, still hoping that God would intervene.
I was lucky enough to meet and eventually marry my husband (one of our Pastor’s sons) and this actually changed our family’s life, as my husband was able to pay the full dowry for marriage, which is the traditional way of marriage in our country.
I was then able to have my own definition of happiness. For me, happiness is a decision one can make. It is not associated with riches or material things. We still didn’t have enough, but we were happy sharing the little we had. This also built a strong character in me and helped me learn to persevere in hard times and to be content with what I have now. It also raised my tolerance level and helped me to deal with tough times better in my life, whether at work or at home.
How did things change when you arrived here in Taree?
Arriving here in Taree, I was very lucky to be offered a position at Mayo Private Hospital in the sterilisation department. I then decided to undertake a Certificate 3 in Nursing Assistant (Acute) at TAFE. I did very well in this course, achieving a Certificate of Excellence on completion. I also completed the Certificate 3 in Aged Care and a Certificate in Basic Foot Care. After this I stated working in the aged care industry as a nurse assistant. I did love my job, and it was a dream-come-true.
Since then I have completed a Certificate IV in Tertiary Preparation Course at TAFE, followed by a Bachelor of Nursing Degree through University of Newcastle. During this period, I was working full-time, studying full-time and doing household chores. Despite this, I made the decision that I was going to do it in three years, and that there was no room for failing. I worked very hard and finished in 2016. I passed all exams and assessments, no resit or re-submission. That was the biggest academic achievement in my life.
This led to me being offered a new graduate position, but there was one hurdle I needed to overcome, and that was that I needed to be able to write English well enough to satisfy APRA requirements to become a Registered Nurse in Australia. I passed English, got registered and start my one-year new graduate program. I am now in my third year of nursing, leading a wonderful and hardworking team. I cannot thank enough the amazing management, who continuously provided me with ongoing education.
What do you love most about being here in the Manning-Great Lakes?
I remember that when I was in South Africa preparing to come here, I used to watch a DVD titled Beautiful Manning Valley, showing the whole Manning region and activities taking place in the area, and I just fell in love with the area from then. When I arrived here in 2007 and met people in the streets, at college and work, I then realised it was even more beautiful than I had ever thought. I did not move to any other areas, and I am happy to retire here. It is peaceful and more relaxing.
What do you hope to be doing in five years’ time?
In five years’ time, I want to complete my Master’s Degree in Advanced Care Practice, so I can take on work in a more senior roles. I would also like travel home more frequently, as well as visit other countries of interest.
Interview: Ingrid Bayer.