Refugee from Sierra Leone Shares His Story

Sunday 18 March, 2012

When Amadu Bangura, a refugee from Sierra Leone in West Africa, visited Warrane on 14 March 2012, he shared the story of his harrowing journey out of his homeland after civil war broke out there when he was just eight years of age.

After being granted refugee status, Amadu came to Australia to make a new life for himself, but the transition was not an easy one. He said after completing his school studies in Sydney and being accepted into courses in psychology and law at the University of Wollongong, he had come to learn the real value of education.

“When I was at school in Sierra Leone, a teacher told us that education was the most valuable thing in life, more valuable than silver or gold,” he said. “At first I couldn’t believe her, but now I know it to be true. Education opens doors to a better tomorrow. I don’t think education should be about money, but about having opportunity.”

Amadu explained that after rebels attacked the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, chaos ensued. He was separated from his own family, including his seven siblings, and he experienced brutality, witnessing the murder of innocent people. He decided then to try to escape from the country alone. He wasn’t able to take to the sea, so he was forced to travel through the bush with other refugees, eating nothing but bush food.

“At a river we met up with a fisherman who we asked to help us,” he said. “At first he wanted to charge us for his help, but when he realised we had no money he became very compassionate and kind and helped us to escape.”

Amadu spent six months in a refugee camp in the neighboring country of Guinea before he was granted permanent residence in Australia. After arriving here he was at first filled with “irrational exuberance”. “How fortunate we are living in this beautiful country, Australia, where education is not a privilege but a right,” he said. “In Africa we have to pay school fees from the first day of year one.” As a consequence, in Sierra Leone education is restricted to the wealthy - something that has meant many of his old class mates have never been able to pursue their own education, despite the fact that they are very bright.

At first assimilating into Australia had been extremely hard for Amadu and he even felt at one stage that he should return home.

“Now I think Australia is the best country to be in,” he said. “It is all about education and how it can lift your living standard. When I finished my studies I felt like everything is possible.”

Amadu said that if Australia wanted to help countries like Sierra Leone, rather than giving people “handouts” it should try to improve the education system there.

“When people are given something and they don’t have to work for it, they become lazy,” he said. “They will just continually look for handouts.”

Amadu intends to use is knowledge of human rights law to assist other refugees to settle in Australia by helping to mentor them.

(More photos from the evening can be viewed here).

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