I spent countless hours working with Bol at the shop when he was a teen. Listening to him crack the same jokes day in and day out. But there was something special about Bol that somehow let you endure the repetition and walk away with a smile.
These days, he still cracks the same dumb jokes. But does it at the same time as running his own social platform, The Seed Network.
Our mate Josh Sabini sits down with Bol for Smile and Wave, to chat about how Bol wants to change the world.
S+W: Please introduce yourself.
My name is Bol Mayan, I was born in Khartoum (capital of Sudan), then I moved to Egypt, and then to Australia in 2004. I am a very curious individual. I enjoy skateboarding, talking to people and learning from people.
S+W: What is The Seed Network?
The Seed Network is a platform that explores the incredible stories and journeys of people from the African diaspora. This is done by sitting down with people who are doing incredible work in our communities and aren't getting the recognition they deserve. The platform aims to help kids who are having an identity crisis or are looking for guidance or mentors and for the wider communities who are as curious as I am. Ultimately, it’s a one-stop shop for all your African knowledge and interests. We are also building a team alongside team member and long-time friend Kuich Johnson, and we plan to continue to run programs such as Drug and Alcohol Awareness, soccer sessions every Friday and a Skateboarding session at the start of 2023. We've also got many exciting new projects so stay tuned.
S+W: How did you come up with the idea to start The Seed Network?
The idea for The Seed Network came about during lockdown. I was worried about my family and mum's mental health, so I became really interested in learning about psychology, people’s wellbeing, and mental health. I did as much study as I could online and through books. This led to me spending more time with my family and mostly my mum, which was super awesome. As we sat down, she spoke about our culture, what it was like for her growing up in South Sudan, the devastating war that went on for over 5 decades and our remarkable journey to Australia that I was too young to remember. That inspired me to start a platform where I get to hear other people’s stories, to give them the opportunity to tell their story, to reduce stigma and to change the narrative. I hope hearing those stories can make other people feel the same way I did and be motivated to go for something, like our parents did by coming here, which was extremely challenging.
S+W: What did you do during that planning process?
I tried to learn as much as I could on my own about my culture. The more research I did the more I realised there was a lack of information about where I was from, my culture and my people. That helped me realise that this is such an important project because there is very little information on what I was looking for. I made a list of people I admire and have always wanted to interview and learn more about. A few of those people I have interviewed now. I also wrote down things I thought would be important for kids from African backgrounds who were born here to know. Things that they might not know or might want to know. I did a little bit of learning about how to interview, I watched a lot of interviews from my favourite interviewers and learnt as much as I could about editing and how to set up a space to hold the interviews in.
Who are some of the people you had in mind to interview?
One of them is Majak Daw, the first South Sudanese born AFL player. Peter Bol another incredible human being in the South Sudanese community, who recently came fourth in the Olympics and got Western Australia's Young Australian of the Year. Nyadol Nyuon, who is an Australian lawyer and human rights advocate, a mum, and a sister to an AFL football player. She has done so much and has been so resilient in her work. I have a big list, but those are the big three who I really want to talk to as they are very influential to me.
S+W: Does the name The Seed Network have any special meaning?
Yes. The name, The Seed Network, means a lot to me. During lockdown, it was very tough for a lot of people, especially myself because I had recently lost a very close friend and that basically changed the trajectory of my life. Through that, I was doing a lot of meditation and learning a lot more about my mental health and psychology. I just fell in love with philosophy. When I was meditating, I would always imagine myself in a field, that field was my brain and my thoughts were my seeds. One day I thought I would reset everything. I imagined myself burning the whole field down and starting fresh. I was the farmer of my new field and I took full responsibility for the thoughts I now planted. I made sure to be extremely cautious of what I was listening to, who I was around and what I was watching. To make sure that whatever thoughts and ideas were being planted in my head were seeds to help me grow into a better role model for my family, siblings and for my community. And one night at 3 am in the morning, The Seed Network came to mind, and I jumped out of bed and wrote it down in my notebook.
S+W: I’ve seen you posting about The Seed Network team members. Who are they and what does the team members title mean?
The team members are people who are eventually going to make The Seed Network a one-stop shop for all your African content. I’ve got a few team members so far who have so much to give and we have very exciting things to come. One of them who I've mentioned earlier is Kuich Johnson, he’s also been a guest on the show. He is really involved in the community, helping the youth and has also been in Alice Springs helping the Indigenous community up there. He is a good-hearted guy, who is passionate about his work. I also have Bol Mathiang, a Law Student who works at Ajak & Associates, a firm founded by our very own South Sudanese Daniel Ajak, a criminal lawyer. Bol is an incredible, hardworking individual and I can't wait to spend more time with him and learn as much as I can. Sobur Dhieu, a very articulate and very passionate and proud South Sudanese woman is also a Law student and is also a part of A.Y.I [African Youth Initiative] which is another project that helps young African kids. Our last team member is Aguer Ngor, who was the first guest on the show. It has been incredible to have her on the team. She is a lot older and a lot wiser. She is like a mother to us, she is an incredible mentor for me and the rest of the team. What we have planned for her starts off early next year. I am super excited about it, I’ve wanted to do the project for a long time, and it took her a lot of convincing to do it [laughs]. I am happy that she has finally been happy to be a part of the project.
S+W: You recently went to London and took the podcast with you. Was it planned to do a few episodes of the show while you were over there?
The goal was to go to London and interview someone who was on my list, Ayuol Manyok, who is a South Sudanese Australian model, from Perth who is now living in London. I knew of her, but we didn’t know each other. She was one of the top 5 people I wanted to interview when I was planning for The Seed Network. When I booked my ticket to London, I hit her up on Instagram asking if she would want to be a part of The Seed Network and talk about her experiences. She was keen. She’s so lovely and super easy to get along with, we hung out the whole trip. We did the episode too which was another dream come true. That was the plan, to go overseas and interview a few people, as well as, to meet other people from African backgrounds and see how far African people have come as people in London and to get inspiration from that and bring it home.
S+W: You’re in a new studio now to what you were in season one. What was the process behind getting the new studio?
The new studio was something that I had been eyeing out before I even started the project. At the end of last year, I was working on a few short films with the crew at Youthworx. I got invited to do them by Kelly West, who is a good friend of mine. She has been in the film industry for a long time and is very experienced and knowledgeable. She has helped me out a lot too. When we were doing those short films, I remember seeing the space and thinking it would be such an incredible space for filming episodes. I didn’t tell anyone or say it to anyone. Recently, before starting on the second season I asked if I could use the space and they were keen. Thanks to Kelly, she made it happen. She gave up her Saturday to help me film the first episode of season two. That was a blessing. I remember tearing up that day because it’s something that I visioned so long before it actually happened. Thank you so much, Kelly, I love you so much and thank you for this opportunity.
S+W: You’ve been doing a bunch of community work recently, what have you been doing?
I have been doing a bunch of things. What I have been mainly doing is volunteering at Richmond Youth Hub, they have got a few different programs on. The main one I go to is for the boys club. I have been helping out with the boys there and hanging out with them and trying to understand them. Seeing if there are any programs they would like to see or do and trying to find a way to create that, I've also attended a few youth forums to hear other voices of young people to hear what they’d like to see. I’m trying to get involved with as many projects to better the community and get the youth to where they want to be or achieve what they want to see in the community.
S+W: How did you get involved with that?
My younger brother goes to the Richmond Youth Hub and one day I went to go pick up my keys and one of the workers there was like “oh you’re Bol Mayan, Jennifer and John’s brother. We’ve heard about you, we’ve heard about The Seed Network and what you’re doing”. We just started talking about Richmond Youth Hub. Sandra, the team lead I spoke to suggested that there might be potential work and opportunities that would be good for me to get a part of. I took those opportunities and ran with them. It has been incredible, every opportunity I have got I am thankful for. I have been having so much fun.
S+W: It's so good when you have a job that you’re so hyped on, that it doesn’t even feel like work.
Exactly. Certain days it is on a nice weekend day, some days it’s on my day off, but I don’t care, I just love it so much.
S+W: How important is it to you, to be a good role model?
It is really important for me, I have younger siblings, my brother is 16 and it has been hard for a lot of African youths, especially with the media going completely against them and them not really finding anyone to look up to. So, that has been a very important part of my life to make sure I can be a role model for someone, or someone can look up to me and realise there is another way of going about things and following your passions and dreams regardless of what you thought you can and can’t do. That’s why it’s important to me, for my younger siblings and their friends who are either lost or feel like they don’t have the right role models around.
S+W: The African community and particularly the South Sudanese community in Australia has arguably received the worst media portrayal in recent history. How important is positive media representation to a community that for a long time has only been portrayed negatively?
It’s very important and that is part of the reason why I started the project. What the media was portraying was such a small factor of what was happening. We have a massive community here and, in that community, we have so many incredible people. I felt like no one was giving us the platform to show the world how incredible we are, how many great people there are in the community and the amazing work that they have been doing.
S+W: How did you find that negative media portrayal impacting you?
At first, it was very painful, because I didn’t know how to react. If anything, I reacted the wrong way, I basically ran away from the community. I ran away from who I was as a South Sudanese person. I did that by hanging out with different people from different cultures and communities, thinking I could fit in with them. The more I tried the harder it was to fit in. I eventually came to a halt and realised I can’t run away no matter what I do or try, I am forever who I am. It was hard at first, but it gave me the love to stop running away and come back to my community and have the passion to love it and be proud of it. Because I can’t do anything about it, and I am the complete opposite of what the media says. It was negative at the start, but it was very positive at the end because I am very proud of who I am. It has made me stronger and more determined to get people from African backgrounds to love themselves and love where they are from and to understand that they are very unique and special.
S+W: How long did it take you to realise that your background is something you should be proud of and not something you should keep running away from?
I think this whole media against South Sudanese youths started off around six or seven years ago. The first three years were very hard, I didn’t know what to do. I was very confused and angry. At the time I was working at Coles, so when I would go into work, they would have the newspapers on the stand. I would see the front covers of the Herald Sun and it made me very upset and hurt. I would completely lose focus at the start of my shift. It was very hard for me at that time. At the same time, it was good because I think a lot of people came out of the woodwork and took a stand against it. It was good to see people go completely against that and do the right thing, creating platforms for young people to feel safe. That was amazing to see, it was very inspiring. It was a rollercoaster journey and now it is all the way up.
S+W: One thing you always talk to your guests about is their journey to Australia. What was your journey to Australia like?
I am learning more about that journey now because when I came here, I was 7 years old. I came here with my mother and my father, who eventually left the family once we first arrived here and my brothers and sisters, we looked after each other. We went from Khartoum where I was born and then three years later, we moved to Egypt, and I was there until we moved to Australia. Egypt was extremely fun. I had so many friends and cousins around. Now that I am older, I realise how much of a hard time it was for my mother, father, and uncle. Moving to Australia was very exciting for me because I had older siblings as well, who I now know had to go through a lot for me to feel safe. I am lucky to be here, I am grateful for it every single day. I try to take that understanding to create something and inspire other people to realise how lucky they are to be here too.
S+W: What was it like for you growing up in Melbourne?
Melbourne was really fun. As I said I was really protected by my older siblings, we hung out and played with each other. It was easy growing up with them around. Then when I went to primary school it was also cool because I went to a school that was full of people from African and Asian backgrounds. That was good because I never felt like an outsider, there were always people from different places around the world. High school was also fun too, I went to an all-boys school which was surprisingly really good. I had incredible friends and teachers, I had so much fun. I was very lucky growing up. Maybe I was just good at ignoring negative things, but to be honest I did have so much fun.
S+W: Did you feel connected to your culture?
When I came to Australia, I thought that I had to adapt to the culture, so, I spent so much time learning the culture, language and how to be Australian. To the point where I slowly forgot my own culture, where I was from and who I was as an individual. That didn’t kick in until after high school and when the Black Lives Matter movement happened a couple of years ago. That’s when I started to realise, I have come this far but who am I, I need to start learning about my culture now. It wasn’t something that I didn’t have opportunities to learn, I was just so focused on learning Australian culture.
S+W: What was it like moving here at 7 and trying to learn English and work out how to fit in with Australian culture?
It was easy for us, as my siblings and I were very competitive. One thing we would do was try to compete on who could learn English the fastest. We moved here in 2004 and around that time a lot of South Sudanese people started coming here. That was cool because the school I went to when I first moved was in Reservoir and there were a lot of South Sudanese people there and people from other countries too. It was incredible being here, we had the freedom and luxury to do things we could never do back home. It was a dream come true and it was like living in heaven.
S+W: As cliché as it is, do you think skateboarding helped you navigate your way through the world?
One thing that skateboarding helped me with is learning how important it is to use your creativity, being able to design something in my head and bring it to life. It has helped me a lot with that and going for things that I never thought I could do. I met a lot of incredible people skateboarding and I am glad I met who I did because they made me who I am.
S+W: Are we going to see you make a skate comeback?
Definitely. I love skateboarding. I skated for like 12 years. I am a skateboarder. It is something that is embedded in me. I still dress like a skater. I think about skateboarding every single day. That’s my passion. When I get a little less busy, I will be back on the board straight away. I will never give up skateboarding.
S+W: Where can people find The Seed Network?
On Instagram at @the.seednetwork, there is a Linktree in the bio that goes to all the other projects we’ve done. If you don’t have Instagram, you can go straight to YouTube at Theseednetwork. We also have a Spotify if you want to listen to the episodes while you’re on the road.
S+W: Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
I’d like to thank Kelly West for all the help and for teaching me about editing, computers, and filming. I’d like to thank my mum for all the inspiration in getting this project going and for making me believe that I could achieve it. I’d like to also thank the Richmond Youth Hub for all the opportunities they have given me. And my team for joining me on this journey and believing in my vision.