Twins Emmanuel and Johnson Garley have been through more in their 17 years than most people encounter in a lifetime.
Arriving in Sydney at the age of 13 with their three younger sisters from their west African homeland, with just the clothes on their backs and very little English, the young family started a new life with their only relative in Australia.
Yet despite their incredibly tough start, the boys are not only surviving but thriving and agree it has been their faith that has made it all possible.
So when it came to Holy Spirit Catholic College at Lakemba selecting students to attend next month’s World Youth Day the two Year 11 boys were “very easy choices”.
The twins are among a group of five heading to Panama from the college and both can’t wait to share their faith with young Catholics from around the world.
They have taken part-time jobs at KMart and the school has held countless raffles, sausage sizzles and fundraising drives to ensure the boys could attend.
Both young men said words can’t express how thankful they are that the entire school community has supported their pilgrimage to Panama.
“Our faith is so very important to all of us, for me it’s always been about hope,” school captain Emmanuel said.
“Having the school get behind us and help raise the money to get there has meant so much to us both.
“My dream is to meet Pope Francis and who knows that might actually happen when we are there.
“My mum always told us to make sure we had a strong relationship with Christ and it’s something I live by every day.”
The two teens are part of the 223 member contingent from Sydney Catholic Schools heading to Panama including 108 students, 69 teachers, 46 young leaders including six chaplains and a bishop.
And while the logistics and costs of getting to South America has been a real challenge the rewards they say will be priceless.
Sydney Catholic School’s tour leader Michael Neylan said all of the hard work will be well and truly worth it.
“It’s been a long process for me, I have been involved from the very beginning,” he said.
“I arrived home from the last WYD in Krakow on the Sunday, was given Monday off and told on Tuesday I would be leading the team to Panama so it has been three years of hard work.
“I guess the accessibility has been the biggest challenge along with the associated costs and logistics.
“Now that it’s only weeks away it is really exciting and having pilgrims like Emmanuel and Johnson on the trip makes all the effort worthwhile.
“Giving the students the opportunity to encounter Christ with other young Catholics from around the world will hopefully be an unforgettable experience.”