Jerome Rugaruza believes there is only one correct answer when people ask: “How are you?”
His response is “always good”.
The Newcastle local is the founder of Global Alliance for Peace (GAP), a charity built upon the driving forces of generosity, compassion, and love.
After fleeing his war-torn homeland in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Jerome set out on a mission to create change as a new Australian citizen (NAC).
Jerome coined the term NAC for migrants who no longer identify under the refugee status.
His goal over the past 11 years, and GAP’s mission, has been to connect locally in order to make a positive impact globally.
He says Britany Darvas of Mayfield West’s Grainery Church has been a driving force in helping GAP offer support to those in need.
Jerome, Britany, and the team have had such success that they are working towards opening a refugee community centre in Newcastle.
Estimated to cost $1.2 million, the facility will provide shelter, training, childcare, education, and more for citizens in need.
“We want to offer a home to the homeless, help to the helpless, and hope for the hopeless – you don’t need to be a refugee from the Congo for us to help,” Jerome said.
“Anyone will be able to stay for three months while we help them find a job and, when they’re financially stable, they can move into their own home.”
He hopes the same sense of mateship that steered the nation through the pandemic can help those who attend the centre.
“I think Australia was hit the hardest by COVID-19 because it arrived after long-term drought and devastating bushfires,” he said.
“But I saw the country pull together – local people helped one another, the government offered financial support, and we all worked together through lockdown periods.”
Unfortunately, not all countries have been so lucky.
Jerome explained that places like the DR Congo, where many of his family still live, are battling the pandemic amid civil unrest and poverty.
Before he migrated to Australia, Jerome’s father was killed by rebels, and his family’s livestock was stolen.
He says the standard of living hasn’t improved much since the war began in 1996.
Through educational support to the vulnerable people of the DR Congo and Africa, Jerome, Britany, and GAP are hoping to change this.
“My father once told me: ‘Cows can be taken from you, but, if you study, no-one can steal an education from you’,” Jerome said.
The organisation also helps other NACs find work and a stable income right here in Australia.
“Rather than setting them up on welfare, I use government schemes and my local connections to find them a job where English isn’t a requirement,” he said.
“Be it picking and packing fruit, helping out on dairy farms, or cleaning, we connect them with a much-needed income.”
When asked how he is able to find work for refugees with limited English skills, Jerome joked: “Australian dairy cows don’t often ask for a translator.”
The new centre will continue these efforts, aiming to act as a community for those in need.
“Your children can be taken care of when you leave for a job, your neighbours will help you study, other residents can relate to you when it comes to culture shock, and counselling services will be available for those that are suffering,” Jerome said.
“Fellowship is very important in Australia, so this centre will be so much more than just a building to sleep in.
“When I arrived in Australia, I knew nobody – the connections I made became my family.”
For anyone who is interested in helping out, GAP is asking for tax-deductible donations for the new centre.
Bank: NAB, Account Name: Global Alliance for Peace, BSB: 082-637, Account Number: 18747-1629.