When are you happiest?
I believe I’m happiest when I feel healthy, I have all the means to provide for my family, my kids are happy, and everyone is happy. So that really makes me happy, especially when I look at the kids jumping around, and being there for them.
What are you passionate about?
I think my passion has always been around community development. But career wise I am really passionate about good quality water. Because based on life experience, I have seen water to be a really… life, it does mean life. And having good quality drinking water has been something I am passionate about. And that is why I have chosen to be a water engineer.
Because some people here in Australia, water, we take good quality water for granted. There are millions of people around who can’t even have a glass of good quality water. So that’s where my passion is.
What is something significant you have achieved?
My most significant achievement so far has been being able to finishing university. This also goes back to where I come from, back in Burundi, my family couldn’t go to school. They couldn’t even finish high school because of discrimination. There was discrimination which was based on ethnicity, so some ethnicity were more favourable to attend higher education than others.
And this is something my dad always telling me, make sure when you get the opportunity – study. So when I got here and got that opportunity to finish university, and I did my engineering, it became my biggest achievement I ever done.
Who is your role model?
So far my role model has been, if I look at being a Muslim, my role model is lord and prophet Muhammed alayhi as-salām [peace be upon him]. If you go through in his history and learn all he has done and what he has provided to humanity, you actually find the whole of life. If you can relate and act in his life, you will actually be able to lead a successful life.
The other role model could be people like Mandela, if you look the struggle they have done for the African people against a system, a regime that was very oppressive. So you look also at his life, and you find there are some really good skills and experiences we can get through there, and that can help to continue work towards making our community much better. The community we live in, being involved, making a positive contribution in the community live in. So those are the ones I normally, when I look through their background, I read through and I find there is a lot to learn to be a role model.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I think most people when I talk to people about how many languages I speak, they get a bit surprised. Because when you are able to speak your mother language, Swahili, French, and English. It becomes like you are fluent in four languages.
But for some other people the African languages, not many people know about. But they are actually very complicated languages. Being fluent in Swahili for example, I’ve never gone to any school, and I was able to learn and be fluent in Swahili. It is something that sometimes people get surprised.
And also knowing that when I got here in this country I was not able to speak English. But just through learning I was able to finish my university and be able to learn English, and I am still using English at the moment. So people would be surprised to learn my capacity to learn a new language.
What is the greatest risk you’ve taken?
I think when it comes to risk, we have so many risks to undertake. I think my greatest risk I took was when me and my friend decided to drive to Sydney without any plans. We just jumped in the car and said let’s go to Sydney and that’s it. We didn’t have any preparation, we didn’t think about it. We had a mobile phone so we were good with maps. There was nothing to fear.
But when we came back without any drama, I think that was a bit or risky activity to have undertaken! There could be probably other risks we have taken that I couldn’t think about. But that’s what I would say this century, when I think about it, was one of the risky travels without any planning, that we have undertaken.
Was that for the music festival [Sound of Light Festival] last year?
Yeah so what I did, G20 time, and I was like what can we do, it’s going to be a long weekend but what can we do. He said ahh, maybe we can drive somewhere. Oh! The Sound of Light Festival just creaking in my mind, let’s go! I had never been to Sydney before.
What’s something that has changed your life?
I think what happened to me, if you look at my background, the time where leaving the home country, going to a refugee camp, camping out in Tanzania, I was all alone. During that journey I did get help from strangers, people I don’t know. And up to date I still have, I developed connections with people I actually consider as my family because of their support they provided me along the way.
I feel what I learned then, never underestimate the relationship you may have with a stranger. In an Australian context it’s a bit risky, because we don’t help one another that often. But imagine as a teenager you’re running from a war area, you just meet with new people you’ve never met before, but they are able to support you and help you. I feel that really changed who I was because I now see myself, the tendency of trying to help out young teenagers if they are in trouble, whatever they come from, if I have the means and the ability to do so, I tend to help.
And that was because I learned from others that you can be useful to a person, in every way. It doesn’t have to be like money, it could be an idea, it could be guiding someone, if you take this road it takes you where you want to go. I feel it changed who I was. I don’t know who I was at that time but I think it has changed me to be more kind, more considerate, more willing to support other people and just have that compassion and understanding. So regardless who the person is, it could be a stranger, I’m more than happy to support. Because I look back and at this stage, this stage, this stage of your life in your life, this stranger, another stranger, another stranger give you support.
What’s the nicest thing somebody has done for you?
There have been so many. The nicest thing probably someone has done for me. I remember in the refugee camp, when I came I was an orphaned. I was an unaccompanied minor if I can call it that. I was living with this family, for like four months. And then there was some misunderstanding, the lady I was living with in the family, she wasn’t nice to me. In the refugee camp to be able to leave there, you had to have a ration card. It was a card we were given to be able to receive food.
And then at the time the lady was not being nice in front of other people, here came another guy who, I never met that guy, I didn’t even know his name. He came and said young man what is the problem. I said I don’t know, I’m just here, I don’t have a family, and here’s what the lady is saying about me and not being nice, being mean to me. It’s because I have been living with her family, I don’t have a ration card. It is very hard to get from the United Nations, I don’t know how to get it. He was working in one of the organisations in charge of distributing food throughout the camp. And he came to me and said hey, I have other young people living at my house, what about if you come tomorrow and just stay with them. I said ok and he gave me the address. The next day I took my bag, and I went to his address. When I went to his address there were 3 other young people and the next day he came back home with a ration card. This was the most precious gift I could have ever got.
He was very nice. Imagine meeting someone in the evening, you don’t even remember their face, and they resolve your issues within a day without putting in any effort. So I regard him as the person who has done the nicest things for me in my life.
I just found out, because after he left the camp and went to other countries, I recently found out he is residing in Canada at the moment and I am planning to visit him in Canada so we can catch up again.
What’s your best advice to give to other people?
I think the advice for others is just try to be who you are, and have goals in life. If I compare back home to here, back home being a poor country, there’s no ability to achieve what you want to achieve, you may lack the means to do so. But in this country there’s a lot of opportunities, you can be whatever you want to be, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve, because there are means. Whether it’s to do with money, whether it’s to do with skills, whether it’s to do with knowledge, whether it’s to do with support from people, it’s there for you. So follow your passion and make sure seek whatever support you need to achieve your goals in life.
But I feel what I find they don’t have goals in life, and when you don’t have goals it’s hard to achieve anything. And it’s also very hard to understand who you are, and also be able to know what you are passionate about, because people normally get confused. At the end of the day when you’re into it you always find your passion, and once you find your passion and have goals, you are able to achieve whatever you want to achieve.
What role do your beliefs play in your life?
I think to me it goes back to the situations I went through, and in a way the way we were raised, and not having enough around you, not having enough opportunity, living in a poor environment. I think in that you develop some type of beliefs, when you apply those they make you live your life successfully. For example my beliefs in Islam, it’s like a guideline, a guideline how you have to live this life. Because I believe this life is temporary. We believe in an eternal life after this life. So being this life is temporary, your beliefs will then help you make sure you lead a successful life here. Because your beliefs help you understand what are the rights of your neighbor, how are you going to live peacefully with your neighbor, how are you going to treat other people the way you want to be treated, what type of food you need to eat in order to be happy, what type of activity do you want to be involved in to feel good. And that means to feel good physically and also mentally.
If you look at the life I go through when I was a refugee, without the beliefs I had, I probably wouldn’t have been here. Probably my life would have been much different. Because of the beliefs I have, something like patience, you are able to be patient, and also having hope that something good is coming your way. Having that hope, that does help. Beliefs are very important.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I think to me as I said before. I think the way you live your life is always linked to the history behind your life. Because without the history, your life doesn’t have any direction. So the struggles we go through, they are meant to be the guidance to the next days, next months or next years.
To me I always reflect on where I come from, the kind of life I went through. However I always when I am going through hard times, I always reflect on what other people don’t have. For example I may not have a car, my car broke down, I am not able to go to work. It becomes a difficult time when you don’t have a car, when you don’t have that freedom of mobility. But to me I always go back and think hang on, there was a time when I didn’t have anything. I need to figure out how to live without a car for the moment. Because you go back to this time, this time, this time I didn’t even have a bicycle. So I don’t allow that hardship at that moment to take over all my other happiness.
So I tend to relate to my past worlds or other people living in hardship in very tough conditions. And I compare to where I am at the moment, what I have achieved, what I have done, and I always find myself very fortunate, very lucky, than millions of other people. And that makes me actually, whatever difficulties I am in, they will be resolved, mentally I will be fine, and I am able to move forward.
And most of the time when I talk to people when I see them dealing with a hard time, I say think about other people. Instead of thinking about that one little issue happening in your life, think about the other hundreds which are things you are achieved, things are good. You may have good friends, other people don’t have friends. You may have parents, other people don’t have parents. You may have children, other people don’t have children. You can’t have it all, there is always struggle in life. But to overcome those ones, just relate to other people don’t have or what you probably have in excess. Other people will never even be able to have in life. And that will actually help you to move forward.