“I lived in a Tanzanian refugee camp with my parents, seven siblings and one uncle…”
Before coming to Australia in 2005, I lived in a Tanzanian refugee camp with my parents, seven siblings and one uncle. My parents were teachers and pillars of our community before we fled Burundi in 1996, I was only 10.
In the refugee camp my father was a top supervisor in a non-government organisation that dealt with settling refugees into the camp, and really helped a lot of people. My mother was committed to supporting special victims of sexual assault, although she sometimes encountered people who challenged her work, she loved it.
I was 19 when I arrived in Australia; it was a real culture shock. Our neighbours weren’t as ready for socialising as we were used to and the Burundi community was so small. I can’t imagine that there were more than 5 families in Brisbane. We really had to find our own way.
My father was provided $180 cash for the week and told that this money needed to be distributed among all of us for travel to find our way to TAFE and other appointments. I remember his face when he finished dividing the money up and realised there wasn’t enough. We laugh now but it was a scary time.
Although my parents were well educated, spoke more than 5 languages, were able to read and write in English and had held prestigious positions in their former life, they found speaking and understanding Australian English very difficult. My father found employment as a worker in a meat factory and later changed to a taxi driver. My mother made her way through TAFE and has worked in aged care and at a school in Yeronga as a teacher’s aide but when we first arrived she became very unwell. She is a diabetic and was not properly diagnosed or treated with appropriate medications in the Tanzanian camp- so when she came to Australia a lot of investigations needed to be carried out to work out the extent of the damage that the wrong medications had caused her.
If only there was a clinic like World Wellness Clinic around when we arrived! I recall feeling very anxious for my mother’s health and my family struggling to understand the health system and what was going on for my mum. She was so unwell at one stage we thought she might not make it. On another occasion soon after we arrived, my brother became very sick too. He had typhoid fever which hadn’t been picked up and a temperature of over 40 degrees. We remembered that our Case Worker instructed us to call 000 for an ambulance in an emergency, which we did, but ended up with an $800 bill which set us back so far when we were just starting out. No one could advocate for us or provide advice on stressful developments like these, no one was there to ask how things were going and we didn’t want to bother anyone, so we just suffered quietly.
The social support really makes a big difference to the settlement process and that’s why I love giving back now that I am a nurse in a great organisation that understands that newly arrived families with health needs are particularly vulnerable. We were quite well settled within a few years and consider ourselves so fortunate to live in this great country. The Burundi community of Brisbane has grown a lot since 2005 and my family has become a welcoming committee for new arrivals, our family home has become a safe place for all to come and my parents enjoy continuing their unofficial position as community leaders in Australia. After becoming qualified as a nurse I chose to continue with my studies and complete my masters in Public Health because it is my passion.
One of my favourite things to do in the wider community is to engage with all people and remove fear about refugees and assumptions that they may have about Burundi people. On previous years we have taken part in dancing at Refugee Week celebrations in our community which is a fun way to share our culture. This year on refugee week I reflect on my family’s journey and look back with pride at the resilience and strength we all exercised to find our safe forever home. I thank Australia and my local community for the amazing friendships I have made and celebrate my achievements, but I will never forget my past or where I have come from.
Multicultural Peer Support Worker
“The hardest thing about this story is that I left behind my parents along with all my memories with my friends…”
Administration & Reception Worker
“Due to lack of safety and instability caused by the war, I had to resign for a while…”
Co-Founder & Board Director WWG
“Due to the war, my family spent a few years in Austria as refugees prior to coming to Australia…”
Multicultural Peer Engagement Coordinator
“My journey starts in my late teenage years when my physical health began to decline…”
There are many ways to be part of the solution. Contributing monetary gifts, expertise, social capital and time are just some of the ways you can be part of our work to create health equity in Australia.