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Overcoming adversity to thrive

Jefry Yikwa has experienced significant adversity on his journey to Australia. He talks to KATHRYN KERNOHAN about the importance of feeling part of a community and his work with Jesuit Social Services’ Speakers Program.

Jefry from the Speakers Program

The pathway to Jefry Yikwa’s life in Australia was full of challenges.

The West Papuan refugee spent a week in a small boat alongside his brother Elia and 42 other people, in search of a better life in Australia.

“To get on a boat and leave is much more than one risk, there are a lot of risks…. you need guts to survive,” he says.

After a period in immigration detention, Jefry and Elia were released into the Australian community and eventually settled in Melbourne, where they faced their greatest adversity yet.

“The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my journey to Australia was finding a sense of belonging – when I arrived I was only 16, I couldn’t speak much English and I didn’t have people to rely on,” he says.

“Feeling like part of a community and like you belong is very important and at first I didn’t have that.”

While Jefry’s life in Australia is now a success – he is studying a Masters of Engineering and is a Sunday school leader at his local church – he wishes his family who remain in West Papua could be part of it.

“They are very, very proud of what I have achieved and they wish they could come and visit and share their happiness but given the circumstances we can’t do that, so they pray for me and hope that things go well for me.”

Jefry is now a part of Jesuit Social Services’ Just Voices Speakers Program. A range of speakers, including Jefry, are available to share their experiences of seeking asylum in Australia with schools, parishes, workplaces and other groups.

Jefry says speaking to school groups is particularly rewarding as it is a chance to educate young people about more humane attitudes towards people seeking asylum.

“I hope that educating people at a young age gets ideas in their minds that they can pass on to future generations. Young people are our hope for the future and if I can help shape attitudes I will be very proud.”