One thing that all humans have in common is dreaming. When we dream, we permit our minds to imagine the future that we desire to belong to, the person we would love to become, and the world we would like to live in. This characteristic is found in all of us, from as far as Rwanda in East Africa, to refugee detention centres in Manus and Nauru and back home in the suburbs of Sydney.
I am not any different. My dreams started when I was welcomed into this world on a cold Monday morning in a small rural Hospital of Butare in Rwanda. I came in such a hurry that I could not wait for my mother to reach the hospital: I was born outside, in the hospital garden. Despite the threatening cold temperature, I was kept warm, I was cared for by qualified medical professionals and raised to go to school. My parents dreamt for me, wanting to raise me into a human being that loves and serves others. But above all, they wanted me to develop and follow my own dreams.
But just when I was old enough to do so, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 forced us to leave our home for safety. We lived from refugee camp to refugee camp, country to country. Each step took us further from our dignity and dreams. I soon came to understand that this is what tends to happen to refugees: some people mistakenly think that our dreams and rights are less valid. I was taught what it feels like to be unwanted, to have dreams that are not recognised nor given an equal opportunity, to doubt oneself. Sometimes, to even wonder why one exists.
These feelings hit me the most when I graduated from a small refugee high school in the slums of Nairobi, and all I could see was a dead-end. I was not allowed to get a job and I could not afford further studies. This situation unveiled a much uglier truth: that refugees are often not even allowed to dream. Knowing that all my dreams were basically impossible was equivalent to realising that I was better off not dreaming. This was the worst experience of my entire life, and it lasted for a long time.
But, as one Rwandan proverb says, ‘every hill leads to a valley’. When we were told that we were going to Australia, it was like finding an oasis in the midst of a desert. The process was long, but it allowed me to start dreaming again. In Australia, I started to remember what it felt like to be welcomed, wanted and loved. We were made to feel at home by everyone we came across, be it the ladies at the nearby op-shop that gave us blankets, the fruit and veg shop that always made sure we got affordable supplies, to the case-workers who helped us apply for university.
When I was allowed to join university, it was not just my dream being fulfilled, but my parents and society’s dream too. I could now have a word and a voice, I could play a role in deciding how I could help my fellow humankind.
The beauty of a university education is that it allows people to combine their experiences with their creativity, talents and gifts. I chose to study Public Health and Medical Science first. This allowed me to understand health issues in my new home, and also to understand the health issues that I had faced growing up as a refugee. I realised that I could combine my experiences and the understanding of Australia’s needs, and come up with a purpose.
This is how my suppressed goal of becoming a doctor was reincarnated. I realised that Australia needs medical doctors whose priority is the provision of healthcare to those communities that need it the most, such as rural, remote, and Aboriginal communities.
With my dreams restored, I needed to find a university that shared the same values. I chose The University of Notre Dame Australia because it promised an education centred on social justice and service to those in most need. I was looking for a university that could teach me not just medicine, but medicine that I could use to play my part in fighting health inequity. Notre Dame offered my dream course, so I went for it.
I was not wrong. Notre Dame has allowed me to grow both academically and as a person. They have provided a very nurturing environment where I feel both welcomed and part of a small family. There are a variety of student organisations, one of which focuses on rural medicine, shining a light on inequality in order to help eradicate the discrepancy of rural medical practitioners. This university has not only been educating me, but also nurturing my dream to become a doctor in those communities that need the most.
All dreams are valid. Whether a refugee or not, every young person should be allowed to formulate their dreams and pursue them. Education is one of the keys that open doors towards fulfilling one’s goals, and finding the right university and course is also very important. For me, I chose a university that encouraged me and trained me in serving others and not just myself, because this brings me joy. Find what brings you joy, and find a university that provides this for you.