Former refugee student returns as teacher to Orara High School

After fleeing civil wars in Africa, Iginas Gasengayire found refuge in Australia and studied at Orara High School where he is now a teacher after graduating with two degrees.

29 June 2021
Refugee teacher teaching in his classroom
Image: It's back to the future for former Orara student and now teacher Iginas Gasengayire.

In 1993, then two-year-old Iginas Gasengayire (Iggy) left the war-torn central east African country of Burundi with his family for the Democratic Republic of Congo (then called Zaire), only to have civil war force the family to move again two years later, this time to Tanzania.

During the moves Iggy’s family was split up, and two sisters and a brother went missing until the sisters were reunited with the family in Tanzania, where they all lived as illegal immigrants in a refugee camp. There is still no word of the brother.

At the end of 2006 the family arrived in Coffs Harbour after Iggy’s mother successfully applied for a humanitarian visa, without any say in which country would accept them.

From that arrival to completing the HSC at Orara High School, qualifying as a maths teacher through Southern Cross University and then securing a teaching position at his former high school, has taken remarkable resilience and application, not to mention the family’s capacity to thrive in a new world.

“When I first arrived in Australia, life was very different to what I was used to,” Iggy said.

“Everything was very beautiful and I was amazed as we reached Sydney airport. When we reached Coffs Harbour, it was so beautiful.”

At Orara High School Iggy studied English as an Additional Language/Dialect and did Years 11 and 12 over three years before gaining a scholarship to do a Bachelor of Business, majoring in Accounting.

“I’m not sure why I thought of accountancy, but during my first work placement after graduating I really started to think it wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term,” Iggy said.

“In my final year at school I had helped out in the EAL/D classes in my free periods, and while I was at uni I worked at the school as a School Learning Support Officer with other refugee students.

“I really enjoyed it, partly because I could understand what those young people had been through, what they needed, and how I could make a difference to them.

“My best friend had kept saying to me, ‘This is you - this is what you need to do,’ and I realised they were right, so I started a new degree - a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education, majoring in maths.”

Iggy’s talents aren’t limited to academic activity. His and his family’s ties to the community are strengthened by his talent in drumming, which he teaches to refugee students as part of their trauma therapy and which he takes into the community, performing with a group at local venues.

“I am thrilled to be starting as a temporary maths teacher at Orara High this year,” he says.

“As a refugee teenager I could never have imagined having such a wonderful opportunity to support young people, including some who have had backgrounds like mine.”

Read more about Iggy on this ABC news story.

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