From a life of danger to a bright future
by Will Venn
For many students who choose to study in Adelaide, the close proximity of the beaches and the vibrant festival season count among the state’s top lifestyle draws. For UniSA business and law student, Pierre Nkuriye (pictured right), it is the absence of gunshot sounds and the ability to walk without fear down unfenced streets that provides the most appeal.
As a refugee whose parents escaped Burundi in 1988, the first 18 years of Nkuriye’s life were spent within refugee camps across the African continent. The impact of civil war in Burundi in the 1990s had ramifications on Nkuriye’s life that extended beyond the border of the country he fled, when he was just a few months old.
“I had cousins, uncles and grandparents who perished in Burundi. The history of Hutu and Tutsi violence meant that region of Africa was effectively at war. It was explosive and it reached Rwanda leading to the genocide there in 1994,” he says.
“I went to Tanzania but this was unsafe as rebel groups came in and picked up young people in the camps to fight. From there I went to a refugee camp in Mozambique but many children were dying from malnutrition and so to stay there would have been a death penalty.”
After a period of time in Malawi, Nkuriye moved to South Africa where he sold clothing on the street to make ends meet. It was in this environment, without his parents, that Nkuriye learnt to survive on his own. But it was also here that Nkuriye became a victim of xenophobic attacks.
Ultimately, having been identified by the United Nations as a long-term refugee eligible for a humanitarian visa, Nkuriye left South Africa in 2009 and travelled to South Australia. For Nkuriye the move was like an epiphany.
“Arriving in South Australia was spectacular. It is a peaceful place and the people are friendly. The absence of violence and the opportunity to actually make plans, beyond surviving day to day, was what I really appreciated for the first time,” he says.
It was making plans which took Nkuriye away from cleaning and furniture removal jobs, into studying at UniSA College.
“When I was removing furniture I was staggered to see the amount of belongings in each house and it was strange to realise that someone would live in the same house for as long as 20 years before moving,” he says.
“I enjoyed this work but I thought I could make a better contribution to society if I had a better education.
“My wife encouraged me to apply for Foundation Studies at UniSA College and the support I have been given by the college has encouraged me to continue further with my education.”
Nkuriye was awarded the inaugural David Pank Undergraduate Scholarship by the College and has since completed the first year of a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Business double degree.
“I have learnt so much through this course within just one year. I can watch the business news now on TV and can understand about the changing value of the dollar and exchange rates,” he says.
“When I think of my earlier life, what I have learnt from that period is a respect for the value of human life, irrespective of class or background. The bad experiences I have been through have made me into a better person.
“What my education has taught me is that I can no longer be a victim of bad political practices anymore. Studying at UniSA has given me opportunities that my birth country could not do. I am appreciative of this and know that being here is something that would have made my family as happy as I am.
“I choose not to be bitter about my past, especially now as I have started a family of my own.”
Nkuriye reveals that it isn’t a coincidence that he named his son after the legend of another individual who was delivered from a place of fear to a land of opportunity – Noah.