ABC 14 FEB 2020
For Richmond AFLW player Akec Makur Chuot, 34 is much more than just her jumper number. It’s a way of paying tribute to her 34 siblings and showing pride in her culture.
Back in South Sudan, where she was born, Chuot’s late father had seven wives — with Chuot’s mother the first.
While she only shares a mother and father with eight of her siblings, Chuot chooses to honour all of them as her brothers and sisters.
In doing so, she hopes that her footy jumper will show young aspiring migrant footballers that they too can be open about and proud of their culture.
Chuot said that in the South Sudanese culture, it was normal for a man to be married to so many women.
“I get asked a lot about my culture, and it’s something that I’m very proud of,” Chuot told the ABC.
“Because without my culture, I would probably not be the person that I am today.”
Early years spent in a refugee camp
Chuot spent nine years in a Kenyan refugee camp with her family before moving to Perth when she was 12.
During that time, her family lived on a monthly food allowance but she said she was lucky to be able to attend school and mix with other South Sudanese.
The experience meant she viewed her chance to play professional football differently from others afforded the same opportunity.
“I have to have a different perspective because I remember being back there [in the refugee camp] and having a lot of dreams and hopes,” she said.
“I know there are still a lot of kids that are back in those refugee camps that have the same hopes and dreams, that will never get to be in the position that I’m in now.
“I get to have a job and shelter and food and be able to play at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
“It means that one day I can go back home and go back to my refugee camp and tell those kids that their dreams can come true too.”
Joining the AFLW
Chuot made her AFLW debut with Fremantle in 2017, the inaugural AFLW season, but was delisted at the end of the season.
She then relocated to Melbourne to join Carlton’s VFLW program for a year before moving to Richmond.
She also works at the AFL, running the Unity Cup program and Africa Month activations.
Motivated to represent her family, her culture and the migrant community, Chuot said she never doubted her ability to return to AFLW.
PHOTO: Akec Makur Chuot of the Richmond Tigers. (ABC News: Michael Barnett)
“I know I had to come here, and represent my family, but also all the young kids from migrant backgrounds, that come to call this country their home,” she said
“For women from my background to see me playing at the highest level and seeing themselves in me one day I think is one of the reasons why I think I was so determined.”
It continues to motivate her as she pulls on the yellow and black jumper.
“It’s the reason why pre-season is easy, it’s the reason why games and everything that football brings is really easy because you know you have a bigger purpose than yourself, why you do certain things.”
Finding a home in Richmond
At Richmond, Chuot said she had found a club where she could live her purpose and truly be herself.
“I’ve been at a few AFL clubs now and I just love being in the yellow and black because of the opportunity to be celebrated because of everything that you are,” she said.
“Not only as a footballer but as a human being and a leader in the community.
“I think they understand that they have a big role to play in the community, not just as a football club.
“All the players know that. We get around each other and we celebrate each other and that’s a really important special part of this club.”
While her club mates rank highly, her mum, Helena Yar Enoch, is her hero.
“She’s a woman of strength,” she said. “I get really emotional talking about my mum because as a single mum she’s worked so hard to get us to where we are and to get us to Australia.
“I had to make sure she was here to witness the first game at Richmond the women’s team played because she was a part of that journey to get me there.”
Chuot continues her AFLW journey with Richmond when they travel to the Gold Coast to take on the Suns this Saturday.