Former refugee dedicating her life to helping others awarded national education prize


A former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo has been awarded a national education prize.

For former refugee Jolie Kaja, helping others is a natural instinct – it's something she's done her entire life.

On Monday, Ms Kaja's compassion and hard work were recognised as she was awarded the national Community Education Student of the Year award from Community Colleges Australia.

Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she worked as a Red Cross volunteer, but was forced to flee her home when war broke out 10 years ago.

She sought shelter at a refugee camp in Zambia, where she lived for seven years as a single mother looking after her four daughters.

“It was very hard. If you are not strong, it’s very... it’s terrible. The people who are living in the refugee camps, they’re suffering too much,” she says.

Jolie Kaja at the refugee camp in Zambia.
Jolie Kaja at the refugee camp in Zambia.
SBS World News

Ms Kaja and her family were resettled as refugees in Coffs Harbour on the NSW north coast. It's been a life-changing move and she says she's grateful for the opportunities the community has given her. 

She is fluent in French, Swahili and several other African languages, but did not know a word of English when she arrived in Australia.

Then she took up English language classes at TAFE and went on to study aged care as a way to give back to the community.

One of her trainers, Amanda Johnston, from Coffs Coast Community College, says the staff was impressed by Ms Kaja's ability and willingness to learn. 

"She came across as an extremely caring student, to start with, but she did have difficulties with language. And she overcame all those barriers and proved us all very wrong. She actually shone in the class and was extremely liked by all her classmates," Ms Johnston stated.

Ms Kaja now works at the Saint Joseph's Aged Care facility in Coffs Harbour as an Assistant in Nursing.

“I love to help other people because, when I help them, I feel happy,” she grins.

Jolie Kaja (left), the winner of the Aged Care Award.
Jolie Kaja (left), the winner of the Aged Care Award.
SBS World News

Her generous spirit rarely goes unnoticed by those around her.

Fellow aged care worker Jane Donovan offered her praise.

“Jolie is very compassionate. I saw that straight away in her; she’s very caring towards the residents.”

The NSW Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, presented the award to her.

“Jolie's an example of a great refugee story: from being a refugee single mum of four, who's used community college and the opportunity to learn some skills in a sector that is growing, like aged care,” he said.

“Her contribution will be like the many before her, refugees and migrants, that have made this nation the great nation that we are.”

Jolie Kaja with her supervisor.
Jolie Kaja with her supervisor.
SBS World News

After all she's achieved and all she has seen, Ms Kaja is determined to use her new skills to continue helping others.

“My dream is to take this knowledge to the Congo and Zambia to help other people,” she told SBS World News.

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