Storytelling with Abe Nouk

Abe Nouk was illiterate when he arrived in Australia from Sudan with his family in 2004, but he had the resolve to learn to read and write. Abe has since been storytelling through spoken word performances, poetry and music to share his experiences as a refugee.

Storytelling is more important than ever. Empathy and understanding are the antitheses of hate and ignorance and I believe that sharing our personal experiences contributes to a more peaceful world.

Abe is not only an author and accomplished spoken word artist himself, he is now helping others build up their own storytelling skills as Founder of Creative Rebellion Youth (C-R-Y). C-R-Y is a creative space for guiding and mentoring young and emerging musicians, writers, spoken word artists and filmmakers.

The Thrifty Philanthropist: What was the main motivation for you to begin storytelling through spoken word?

Abe Nouk: The main motivation was the frustration at the world. Our political leaders and even citizens (some, not all citizens) are all in on the act. It’s as if people who seek refuge should try seeking asylum on another planet. No. These women, men and children are just as much our responsibility as our next door neighbours.

My family is from a time when refugees were believed and supported. I am who I am now because somebody – an Australian – cared. My main motivation was simple, and still is the frustration. But now it is to express gratitude and encourage the World – people who may end up becoming political leaders some day, school children and individuals within our community. Also, as far-fetched as the idea may seem, to encourage people take risks and believe in the goodness of giving other people – anyone – someone a chance to prove themselves.

Abe Nouk was a National Finalist in the 2013 Australian Poetry Slam Finals
held at Sydney Opera House.

TTP: How do you feel when you’re on stage? What’s going through your mind?

AN: Maya Angelou says in her poem, ‘The Mask’, “My life has been one great big joke, a dance that’s walked, a song that spoke. I laugh so hard I nearly choked, when I think about myself.” 

She discovered something about herself on stage reciting poems which led her to finally understanding the truth about herself – laughing at the confusion of who she is.

On stage I feel at ease and grateful. What’s going through my mind is, ‘My life has been one great big joke, a dance that’s walked, a song that spoke.’ It’s a reminder that I am still learning to dance, sing and recite. The only way I will continue to learn is playfully – to laugh at the confusion of who I am.

An illustration of a microphone
Illustration by Twinewood Studio

TTP: Please tell us about the mission of Creative Rebellion Youth (C-R-Y) and why you established it. 

AN: Imagination is for everyone, and so is creativity. Creative Rebellion Youth being an accessible space encourages both. 

We reached out to talented individuals, musicians, film makers, animators, graphic designers and illustrators to come to the space and share some of their skills with the young people who were on community based orders or serving community service.

TTP: How do you feel that your words are having a positive impact on the world?

AN: Whenever we (Creative Rebellion Youths) are asked to facilitate a workshop at a school, workplace or the Castlemaine prison, one thing is clear; we cannot inspire people if we don’t first remind them to forgive themselves. Yesterday does not count. Faith and fear cannot exist in the same mind at the same time. When people are happy with themselves, we will know we’re each having a positive impact on our communities, the World will catch up.

TTP: Why is storytelling an important skill for young people to learn?

AN: Imagination is the only way to exercise compassion. The sooner young people become interested in storytelling – writing stories about people they have never met; places they may never live in; boat rides they will never have to take to seek refugee; the more interested they become in their fellow humans through stories. In turn, the more compassionate young people become, more communities will be better off, and the world, too.

A man is sitting on an angle to the camera, looking off to the side and smiling.
Abe Nouk
Photo: Benjamin Thomson

TTP: Do you have an example of a young person you’ve seen a positive transformation in through C-R-Y Studios?

AN: Nobody nourished my self-esteem to motivate my drive. I had to figure it all out myself, to be positive and persist about being positive day in day out. When we started C-R-Y studios, we wanted to create a studio space accessible 24/7 to anyone. I would have flourished in a space like that, so it’s nice to be able to do it for other young people. 

Young people don’t want to be reminded about the past – they can’t appreciate criticism. It hurts their feelings. They simply want to know who’s on their side. Once they figure out who is on their side, they develop a sense of pride in that someone cares about them and they gradually better themselves.

It takes 24 hours to start breaking away from a bad habit. One day at a time. Nobody can break a habit without finding a replacement to keep their minds entertained away from that bad habit. We had a 19 year old who was hooked on smoking marijuana. We allowed him access to the space and he started producing instrumentals on Logic Pro. Now he is more in tune with what he wants to do – study Audio Engineering. Small victories.

“Know your truth, keep your peace, speak your joy.”


TTP: What are some of the most rewarding moments you’ve experienced from mentoring young people through C-R-Y?

AN: John Jr’s ‘Live From The Basement’ was the most exciting project we’ve ever produced. It was natural with everyone who pitched in. In addition, because his energy and intentions allowed anyone to connect with him.

The rewarding moments are many. However, witnessing young people develop creative courage to become comfortable in their own skin as artists, and as productive family members eager to get to know and become involved in their own sibling’s lives – that’s blissful. 

When my phone rings or I get an inbox through Facebook Messenger or Instagram, it’s nice to know that they are now reaching out because they have aspirations and creative collaboration has become a fabric of who they are.

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