Dapto High School students walk in a refugee's shoes during Illawarra Refugee Challenge

LIVING LIKE A REFUGEE: Ernest Bukasa Bukasa spoke to students at Dapto High School during the fourth annual Illawarra Refugee Challenge. It ran September 3-6. Picture: Adam McLean
LIVING LIKE A REFUGEE: Ernest Bukasa Bukasa spoke to students at Dapto High School during the fourth annual Illawarra Refugee Challenge. It ran September 3-6. Picture: Adam McLean

A man is born free and raised in chains.

This is a motto which Ernest Bukasa Bukasa lives by. But the University of Wollongong student also believes it only takes one person to make a positive change

He shared this message and his experiences as a refugee with Dapto High School students during this week’s Illawarra Refugee Challenge.

Run by Wollongong City Council in partnership with Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra, the challenge allowed students to gain an understanding of what it would be like to flee your country and leave everything you know.

It’s the fourth year students have been given the opportunity to participate in the Illawarra Refugee Challenge and learn about refugee experiences and journeys.

The challenge helps year 10 and 11 students experience what a young refugee might endure before settling in a new home.

Dapto High School students Stephanie Paterek, Chloe Cruden-Taylor and Haylee Lenhart in the asylum seeker leaky boat simulation they made for the Illawarra Refugee Challenge. Picture: Adam McLean

Dapto High School students Stephanie Paterek, Chloe Cruden-Taylor and Haylee Lenhart in the asylum seeker leaky boat simulation they made for the Illawarra Refugee Challenge. Picture: Adam McLean

Mr Bukasa Bukasa said he enjoyed sharing his journey and  experiences of growing up in Congo, Zambia, with the eager Dapto students.

“Being a refugee is a title I’ve cherished and I’m not ashamed to have that title because it teaches me important experiences about what life is,” he said.

Being a refugee is a title I’ve cherished and I’m not ashamed to have that title...

Ernest Bukasa Bukasa

“The difference between life and school is school gives you lessons to be tested upon but life tests you.

“You go through ups and downs. I’ve gone through ups and downs.

“I’ve suffered from malnutrition and post traumatic stress. I currently have Myasthenia gravis [an autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness].

“But in the end it is more about the quality of life rather than the quantity.

“Look it was a culture shock when I arrived in Australia but it has been a great experience.”

The Fairy Meadow resident, who is close to finishing his Bachelor of Business and Criminology, urged one and all not to take anything for granted.

“There are always other people in other places who are not as privileged,” he said.

Dapto High School teacher Jill Jones said the challenge was an amazing experience.

The challenge consisted of six semi-simulated stations in which the students and former refugees conducted discussions, scenarios and role playing.

The students looked at the reality of water and food supplies, sanitation and education in a refugee camp.

Wollongong City Council’s community and cultural development manager Sue Savage said the challenge was an innovative way for students and community members to gain an insight into refugee experiences and journeys.

“It shows the daily reality of life in a refugee camp and in a city,” she said.