21 May 2024

From the Congo to Keira High, Noella knows communication is key to a new life

| Jen White
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Schoolgirl in front of Keira High School flag.

Former refugee and Keira High School student Noella Jacques. Photo: Jen White.

Six years ago, the only English word Noella Jacques knew was “hi”.

The former refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is now a Year 11 student at Keira High School, who dreams of becoming a midwife.

Noella, her single mum, three sisters and a brother came to Wollongong from the Congo via Kenya, where they had lived in refugee camps.

“Moving to another country as a refugee was difficult, leaving everything behind – your friends, your family. It was really hard, but now I’m used to it,” she said.

“My first impressions were happiness, peace, joy, the best thing ever.”

Now 16, Noella started her schooling in Year Five at Coniston Public School.

“When I started in Year Five, I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know anyone. My first day was really hard. The only English word I knew was hi.”

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Noella has certainly found her voice – and her words – since then. Last year, she won an Illawarra Multicultural Services writing prize for a poem she wrote about her mother, who Noella says is “a very strong woman”. Earlier this month she was awarded the NSW Public Education Foundation’s Friends of Zainab Senior Secondary Scholarship.

The scholarship, established in 2002, supports refugee students through the critical years of their Higher School Certificate. In its first year the scholarship enabled a young refugee, Zainab Kaabi, to complete her schooling and enter university.

The Public Education Foundation is a charity dedicated to enhancing the value and reputation of public education by providing scholarships to its students, teachers and principals.

Other Illawarra students who received scholarships this year included Nazhan Mahmoud, Aidan Halley, Paul Roger and Brianna Khan-Speechly, all from Corrimal High School, and Christopher Graham and Chloe Jeffs from Gwynneville Public School.

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“My English teacher suggested I should go for it but I was surprised when I got it,” Noella said.

She has used the scholarship funds to buy a laptop, which her family could not afford.

Noella says while she misses her extended family in the Congo, she says she has many more opportunities in Australia – “going out, school excursions, meeting other people from different backgrounds, communicating with other people – I love communicating!”

She is doing a Vocational Education Training (VET) course at TAFE (Assistant in Nursing) and hopes to attend Wollongong University to gain a Bachelor of Nursing and become a midwife.

In the meantime, she helps her mum to learn English, enjoys spending time with her friends and makes the most of nearby beaches, which she had never experienced before coming to Australia.

Her advice to new migrants is to work hard and “just ‘do you’ – focus on you and every opportunity that comes your way, just take it”.

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