NELLEN champions speak – The challenge of adult life

NELLEN catches up with Sylva Mwala, one of our young bloggers, to hear about his arrival in Australia and the interactions that helped him along the way

Three years ago I arrived in Australia after living a horrific life in Africa for 20 years—eight years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where I was born, and 12 years in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. Unlike many in the refugee camp, I was with my entire family—my parents and eight siblings. I thank God that we are still all together.

I was welcomed at the Albury airport by the local African community and my case worker. I was very excited but also very nervous. Soon after arrival, I was referred to Gateway Health for my medical check-up where I met my first nurse and Dr Catherine. With the help of my case worker, I was also referred to different service providers such as Centrelink, the Commonwealth Bank and a job agency. It was all so new to me. I was also referred to Wodonga TAFE, where I began my studies as an English student in the Adult Migrant English Program. Kelly McGregor was my coordinator and Donna was my teacher. All these referrals were made by my case worker.

Within two months of arrival, Ian Lack helped me to create a résumé at the Skills and Jobs Centre and Kelly McGregor, who was my English class coordinator and also a friend to Nic Conway, helped me to find my first job as a kitchen hand at Urban Graze, which was owned by Nic Conway. Nic is a great person and loves to give people a chance. I could not believe how much I got paid. In Africa I was paid less than $1 per hour.

In my time at Wodonga TAFE I have completed the Certificate IV in Community Services (2017) and am about to complete the Diploma of Community Services. I was also selected as Community Services Student of the Year in 2017. Teachers and staff at Wodonga TAFE are very supportive and always want the best for the students. Ian Lack has been a key person in my study life at Wodonga TAFE both in his work at the Skills and Jobs Centre and as a Participation Assistant. He helped me to correct my grammar and submit my assessments on time. Along the way I have done several great placements at headspace Albury Wodonga, Albury Wodonga Volunteer Resource Bureau and the Multicultural Council of Wagga Wagga. I learnt some great skills that I hope to put into practice in my future career.

I joined Wodonga Diamonds soccer club in 2017 and I have made many friendships with the people there. The year 2018 was a year I won’t forget because we won the Reserves grand final under Daniel Griffin (coach) and Will Hampton (captain). I scored a couple of goals but the one against Twin City was unbelievable.

I did not have enough money to pay for my driving lessons because it was very expensive at $55 per hour. I was very happy that two friends offered their time to give me driving lessons for free.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me to settle in Australia and make my life easier. I will never forget you.