*Pseudo name used.
On a dreary Friday in the middle of winter, Paul appeared eager to show me his new home. A modest townhouse equipped with everything required for a comfortable life. In hearing his story, it was apparent that this was a significant milestone, a manifestation of pride and hard-work.
'the past had passed and when you remain focused on what has happened, you cannot move forward.'
After hospitably making me a pot of tea, we jumped into his story. It all began as a 19 year old back in his home country of Congo. His father was an Member of Parliament in government and with the rising political tension, there were concerns for safety. Paul described the security measures that were installed around their home, such as two metre high fences topped with electric barbed wire. He mentioned that since the change in leadership of 1997, the country had become very dangerous. A place fuelled by corruption and jealousy.
Paul began to dig down into the specifics, to the day he said goodbye to his parents as he normally would and went on his way to university. It seemed like every other day, in fact he couldn’t recall even the slightest difference. Only on this day, he didn’t make his own way home, his fathers bodyguard arrived to collect him and his three siblings from school. With minimal explanation they were driven over the border to the neighbouring country, Rwanda. It was at this time that they were informed that their father had been executed. The situation was confronting to say the least, especially given that photo evidence was shown to Paul as the eldest. He explained that in this situation, being the son of the target, he was considered to be a threat. It was no longer safe for them to live there, nor to grieve their loss in the embrace of family.
They travelled to Uganda, then to South Africa, before their final destination of Australia, where they would later seek asylum. At such young age, he was now responsible for the upbringing of his brothers and sister as they navigated through school years in a country where they couldn’t speak a word of of the language. For the first part, Paul would carry a dictionary around trying to understand, communicate and connect, whilst struggling to reform his identity, support his family and continue to move forward.
Unfortunately, he hit road blocks. He was not able to get a job for 14 months in his relevant field of study as he was told that his education was not transferable. Rather than allowing this to restrict him, he decided to pursue a degree in International Studies.
Paul mentioned that he had some assumptions as to why the attack on his father occurred and would like to act as a catalyst for change in the justice process within his country. He described his hopes to become an Australian diplomat back in Congo, as with this, he would have protection.
After struggling to get work in Melbourne, he applied for a job in Sydney, which he was successful in obtaining. It was a significant turn of events, a positive step forward, only that he had a heart attack whilst driving on his first shift. Hardship had crept its way in again. Talking through the traumatic experience with Paul, he explained that the doctor believed that he was healthy and had very low risk factors. It seemed that stress played a large part in this incident, from his struggles with work to the inability to move forward in his life.
Today, Paul has come a long way from his experience with struggle. He is now working, healthy and has a young family. Upon reflection of his adversity and what he had learnt, Paul explained that you always need to have a plan, a goal for the future. He explained that it’s good to be both a pessimist and an optimist. Sometimes you need to be a pessimist to think about the dangers and risks as you never know what could happen. But then it’s about being an optimist, having a plan to move towards. In his own words, Paul explained that it wasn’t about ignoring the horrible things that have occurred, but rather about acknowledging them and finding ways to avoid being immobilised by them. This seemed to stem from something that Paul’s father had said to him when he was younger, that he should always think about the future, that the past had passed and when you remain focused on what has happened, you cannot move forward.
When I asked Paul what else he had learnt from his experience, he immediately mentioned resilience. In exploring what he meant and how he believed he developed resilience, he confidently answered. He described that it was something you had to build by continuing to move forward with a reason to do so. He said that he also became resilient by reading about others people’s journey with hardship and how they come out other side. These stories reinforced the belief that things would be good in the end, they strengthened his optimism.
In breaking it down with him, I discovered this: resilience, you develop it by continuing to move forward, but in order to do so, you require motivation which is established through a sense of responsibility, a conviction that you are the one that needs to take action. Ultimately however, Paul explained that resilience was driven by an underlying sense of hope. Without hope you cannot build resilience.
Paul added a final lesson that he hard learnt. He mentioned that his experience had also taught him to acknowledge where was at any given time in his life, to be grateful for what he had.
When we were finishing up, I asked Paul if he had a photo that he felt represented him. It was evident that the pain from his past remained. He mentioned that he had locked photo folders on his phone so that he wouldn’t be reminded of his past. Carrying all this on his shoulders, he continues to walk forward with hope, the key to resilience.
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