When Congolese refugee Faida Kashindi arrived in Albury, NSW, residents had no idea there was a star in their midst.
Faida Kashindi cuts a striking figure as she entertains a small congregation in Wodonga, on the NSW-Victoria border. Dressed in a long lemon gown, she's every bit the rock star, at ease before the crowd. And it’s no wonder.
Faida, who now lives in Albury, began singing aged nine in her homeland the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After seeking refuge in Kenya she released four albums.
She says her career really took off when she released a "peace song" around the time of the 2007 Kenyan elections.
“It was about two tribes fighting in Kenya; the Luos and the Kikuyus, and they were killing each other,” she tells SBS News.
“When I released the song it was all over the radio, the TV … I got an invitation with the office of the government to sing the song for the nation because it bring people together.”
But Faida's life has been anything but rock-and-roll. She won't elaborate on the trauma she endured or witnessed but says neither The Congo nor Kenya felt safe when she was there.
“Any man can attack you and you don't have anywhere to run to … I was not safe, I was not having peace where I was living,” she says.
In December 2015, Faida penned a letter from Kenya to Albury-based refugee advocate Sandra Black. Ms Black, a volunteer with the Murray Valley Sanctuary Refugee Group, assisted with what would turn out to be a successful humanitarian visa application.
Faida arrived in Australia in March and has participated in the group’s refugee settlement program ever since. It offers education, training and basic life skills, and Ms Black says it has yielded many successful settlement outcomes.
“We do have a higher rate of people becoming employed, a higher rate of our people get diplomas and degrees five years after settlement and are not reliant on Centrelink as their main source of income,” Ms Black said.
Faida hopes to use music as a vehicle to deliver her own message of hope. She wants to speak and perform at Australian schools and help young migrants struggling with the challenges of settlement.
“There is young people here, big community, African, Asian, who need someone to lead them,” she says.
“I can stand up and tell them there is hope, there is tomorrow, you can still do it.”
And from the safety of Albury, she says she’s confident she can make it happen.
“I'm here now, I have peace, I don't have fear anymore.”