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Declo Bisimwa

Program Alumni

When war broke out in the Congo, I was eight years old. My mother, myself and siblings, and my aunt fled together but were separated from my father in the process. Then my mother died, my aunty left us, and I was left as the eldest to look after my younger siblings for twelve years, working washing dishes and mopping floors to pay for food, education and not much else. We all fled to Uganda and lived in a refugee camp for nearly a year. I made links with the Red Cross and they traced my father to Australia. The long journey of relocation to Australia began, and we are now reunited together. 

This early life experience and more recent experience has given me:

  • opportunities to develop organisational and planning skills in the most dangerous and unforeseen circumstances
  • the ability to remain calm in the most difficult situations
  • the ability to problem solve and keep a clear head
  • the ability to remain positive and optimistic in life
  • the understanding of different cultures and countries
  • the motivation to work hard and to be the best I can be in and for my community

I undertook leadership and program management roles in Africa:

  • Organisation of youth activities in Nakivale Refugee Camp in Uganda including special excursions: delegated youth representative and translator for the Red Cross
  • Participant in a 3 day training program on Cultural Diversity for all African countries
  • Youth volunteer for Church in Kampala

In Africa, I went to primary school and secondary school, but did not get the chance to finish secondary school. After leaving Tanzania for Uganda, I learnt English only for about two months before coming to Australia. 


When I arrived in Australia in March 2009, aged twenty, I had the opportunity to study VCAL, Year 11 and 12 at Notre Dame College.

Whilst doing Year 11 at school, I worked part time at MacDonalds. Since leaving school, I have worked as a labourer and in various factory jobs. I am also a keen soccer player. Through these activities, I have mixed with many Australians, new and old, and I have learnt a lot about the Australian way of life. I have learned how important it is to get to work on time, and to put in a good day’s work.

In Australia, I have also gained experience as a leader in various Youth Volunteer roles and as a participant in the Youth Leadership program. This year long program is designed to train up the “leaders of the future” and covered topics like: interview skills, communication skills / verbal and non verbal, personal presentation, public speaking, project development, strategic thinking, volunteering, mentoring, asking good questions, record keeping and so on.

In the Youth Leadership program, our Leadership Group organised and participated in a United Nations Conference model in Melbourne with the Topic of “Refugees: Rights and Risks”. The day was planned in collaboration with United Nations Association Victoria and was chaired on the day by Mr. Graham Hunter, President of the United Nations Association of Australia. Senator Helen Kroger, Liberal Senator for Victoria and Chief Opposition Whip in the Senate in the federal Government, launched the day.

The country allocated to me to represent was the United States of America, an important country considered to be one of the world leaders. In preparation for my role, I ensured that I:

  • developed a time line plan
  • researched the country thoroughly
  • collected relevant information to the topic to enable good responses
  • anticipated potential questions that may come from the floor and be prepared
  • developed a written position statement for my country
  • practiced the delivery of my speech until I felt confident that I could do an excellent job
  • discussed any further strategies with others that could add value to my effort
  • sought feedback on areas of improvement both before and during the day
  • observed others to determine the most effective delivery presentations and tried to incorporate into my presentation to the best of my ability

This Youth Leadership program engaged over 60 community leaders, government leaders and politicians as speakers and hosts over 12 months. I have developed ongoing relationships with many of them including: the Police, UNHCR, Federal and State politicians, local business leaders and the Court of Appeal judges.

I have learnt that the key to effective relationship / partnership / team development is:

  • Building trust and respect
  • Treating everybody equally
  • Appreciating people’s differences
  • Effective organization and processes
  • Effective communication processes
  • Good planning
  • A commitment to high quality

After graduating from the Youth Leadership program I was encouraged to apply for a scholarship through the Sampson Leadership Trust that has a focus on community development and leadership in the Goulburn Murray district.

It was a great honour for me to be a recipient of a Sampson Leadership Trust Scholarship in 2014 and that allowed me to progress my vision for young people: Masomo Mbele – School First.

This project is intended to be the next step for the alumni to show community leadership.

What a great and worthy cause for young people and our diverse cultural communities to come together on! In my leadership year, the participants represented many cultural backgrounds in Shepparton, including African Sudanese and Congolese, Afghani, Australian, Indian, and Aboriginal young people and their communities. Many of them wanted to be involved in helping others after the year ended. Thanks to FACEBOOK, our journey in the leadership program has been followed all over the world, including in the refugee camps, where the pictures and experiences have provided hope to others.

I now have excellent literacy, numeracy and communication skills, speak several languages and have a deep commitment to working with, and supporting the needs of others.

Some of my personal attributes are: having a vision for a better future; being passionate, compassionate, and having a belief in integrity and honesty. I am outgoing, ambitious, with a strong faith and values. I value being respectful, enthusiastic, and friendly to others.

I believe that I have the skills, knowledge, commitment, life experience and broad networks to support the community to develop greater community cohesion by promoting cultural sensitivity and acceptance of diversity. This has been a core value for me all of my life and something that I practice every day, whether at work, playing sport, in volunteer roles, in education and employment, in community groups and in the church community.

I have played soccer as a team member of several soccer clubs that are all under the Goulburn North East Football Association GNEFA Soccer Player, Men’s Senior Division 1 Premier League. The first team was a multicultural team of Iraqi, Afghani and Congolese players. The second was an Italian team, which won the premier league competition. The third team that I played for is an Australian team representing Cobram.

In every case, I have:

  • made a strong commitment to understanding the cultures and backgrounds of my fellow team members
  • shared my own life experiences and background to encourage further understandings of cultural diversity
  • committed to being the best possible player I can be through healthy lifestyle habits, maintaining fitness, and participating in all training programs
  • understood that I can be a positive role model in both the team and in the community
  • always ensure that I am punctual, well prepared, well presented and enthusiastic in every aspect of my life

In my work with Visy Vadpak, making packing boxes and using machines, I have always aimed to:

  • be an excellent employee, delivering a high standard of commitment
  • have a positive attitude
  • be a good role model for others
  • be punctual and well presented
  • have a commitment to learning new things
  • ask for feedback on areas to improve
  • develop good relationships with the other employees

Australia has changed my life. I have seen how people struggle to live, and struggle to get a job without education. Where I come from, more materials are needed in schools, books and resources that are better than a tiny blackboard constantly wiped clean. I have learnt that kids need to be fit and fed in order to learn. My vision and passion is to help others, and one of the ways has been through the setting up of a Youth Leadership Foundation – Masomo Mbele- – School First. This is in early stages, but did include a field study trip in late 2014 to Africa to meet with the most disadvantaged school communities to develop collaborations and partnerships for the future.

Masomo Mbele is about HOPE. It is about the importance of education. The process of developing Masomo Mbele in our community enables young people to show community leadership. The process of developing Masomo Mbele in our community is reason for diverse communities to come together in collective action. The process will develop greater social cohesion, a sense of belonging and greater appreciation of diversity. The process will develop greater appreciation of the value of young people in the community. The process will be an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to improve the lives of those living without hope.

This is an opportunity to develop a “youth driven story” across countries and cultures. I see this opportunity, and this challenge, as the second biggest achievement of my life.

In my dream, I see poor children who have nothing, being given hope and opportunity as we have been. Our communities here will be richer in the knowledge that they have made this happen.