It was 1996, and war had broken out in the Congo.
Jerome Rugaruza was forced to flee his homeland and spend years in a United Nations Refugee Camp when his father was murdered and 100 cattle were taken from the family farm.
He arrived in Newcastle in 2009 and, two years later, was reunited with his wife, Imaculee, after a decade apart.
Jerome’s father once told him: “Cows can be taken from you, but, if you study, no-one can steal an education from you.”
So, he studied Social Sciences and Anthropology at the University of Newcastle, and went on to create a charity called Global Alliance for Peace (GAP).
It aims to help refugees find affordable accommodation and employment in Newcastle, reducing Centrelink dependency; develop African-Australian community networks; assist widows and orphans who have been affected by war; and offer zero interest loans to families and low-income earners to allow them to achieve their dreams.
GAP also assists refugee children to be reunited with their parents.
The current COVID-19 restrictions have added a new challenge to the charity’s operations, but Jerome and his volunteers are trying to help as best they can.
“We are currently helping our refugees in other ways, helping with food, trying to find volunteers to help with English tutoring,” he says.
“We have been able to secure funding for one month, which we are very grateful for, and we’re hoping we can achieve more funding to help refugees settle into this country and become citizens.”
GAP is not funded by any government or non-government organisation, while everyone who works is a volunteer and every cent donated goes straight towards helping refugees, both in Australia and Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to assist those awaiting refugee status.
“When a refugee comes through, GAP jobs are found usually within the first few weeks of arriving within Australia,” Jerome says.
“Currently, Bowthorne Dairy in Wallalong [near Morpeth] has offered a full-time job to future refugees, and GAP is also working hard to rehome in regional towns across Australia – we have a few families who have settled into Cowra, which has been fantastic.
“We connect locally to impact globally. Local network is our source, and helps us achieve so much.”
Jerome adds, if GAP can raise $13,730 by Thursday 30 April, the charity’s office in Kenya can purchase supplies and pay the bills for 25 family groups for at least one month during this health crisis.
“If we raise more than $50,000, we can extend the period during which we support these families or support additional families, depending on how long authorities recommend self-isolation for the local population,” he says.
GAP is asking people to donate $5 directly to the registered not-for-profit charity – Bank: NAB, Account Name: Global Alliance for Peace, BSB: 082-637, Account Number: 18747-1629.
Visit the organisation’s website for more information.