A RWANDAN refugee finds peace and a future in Horsham, writes PETER HEMPHILL
Rwandan refugee Thomas Davis (not his real name) has found his peace in the world.
The 38-year-old has started an agriculture course at Longerenong Agriculture College and hopes it will lead to his first real career.
Thomas has spent half his life finding his peace.
He was born in 1974 to a Ugandan father and a Rwandan mother.
His father was killed in Uganda over a land dispute, leaving Thomas, his mother, two brothers and three sisters to fend for themselves in Rwanda.
But when civil war broke out between Hutus and Tutsis, he fled the country.
He refused to supply his real name out of fears for family members in Rwanda.
Thomas ended up working in Burundi and Tanzania before travelling to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
After a year there, the Rwandan Army attacked Congo and he again had to flee into the jungle.
He walked for seven months through bush, seeking food and water.
He ended up in the safety of Cameroon, a former French colony. He wanted to study for a special qualification but found it difficult due to the French language.
So Thomas travelled through Nigeria to a UN refugee camp in Benin in August 2000 where lived for seven years while trying to find a country to take him.
He met his Togolese wife, Ablavi "Sarah" Mikando, in the camp.
Their native language groups are different so they communicate in French.
Eventually Thomas, Ablavi and their son Credos, now eight years old, were offered a humanitarian visa to resettle in Australia.
Ablavi was six months pregnant with their second child when they arrived in Perth, where they have lived for the past five years.
Thomas could speak four languages - his native Kinyarwanda, the Congolese language Lingala, Swahili and French - but not English so he spent three years learning English.
"This was important for my qualification," he said. "In my holidays, I did volunteer jobs in (the) disabilities (sector) and Perth City Farm."
With his expertise in French and African languages, Thomas was employed as a translator by the Department of Immigration. But it was his six months of volunteer work at the Perth City Farm - a community garden and network centre - that triggered his interest in agriculture.
"I saw many different things there," he said.
"Agriculture was why I decided to to come to this country.
"In Rwanda, we use hands (to till the soil). Here, it is machines."
Thomas began looking for an agricultural course and Longerenong came with a high reputation.
Last November, he flew to Melbourne, then took a train to Horsham and taxi to Longerenong for the college's orientation program. He was accepted into the Certificate IV in Agriculture course.
He left his wife and expanding family of four young boys to begin the course two weeks ago.
Ablavi will stay in Perth until Thomas is settled in and Thomas is looking forward to being reunited with his family.
"I love the countryside life," he said. "Especially, for my boys.
"It will be good for them to grow up in the country."
And does he like Australia?
"Because of the past, the first thing I like here is the peace," he said.
"It's a new home to start my life."