Freedom truly a gift
ABOUT three quarters of students learning English locally through TAFE come from refugee backgrounds and from countries where education is a privilege, rather than a right afforded to all.
For many conflict, poverty and discrimination keep school far from their reach, and so these students are eager to learn and grateful to access education when they settle here.
Gawlu Seng Naw, 21, came to live in Coffs Harbour earlier this year from Myanmar via Malaysia where he was granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
His past is a picture of tragedy.
Seng Naw's father was enslaved by Burmese security forces before stepping on a landmine. His twin sister was sent away to protect her from military personnel, who routinely swept through the village preying on girls, and the family's land and home was confiscated without compensation.
But what finally caused him to flee was being kidnapped by Burmese soldiers, along with several other teenagers, and forced to train as a child soldier.
He managed to escape and get out of the country.
Reflecting on his wait in Malaysia he said: "I just wanted to go to a safe place and have a better life."
He hopes to eventually do a nursing degree.
Davood Sharifi, 25, was born in Iran after his parents fled war in Afghanistan. Despite being born in Iran he was not recognised as a citizen or given any form of identification.
He faced statelessness and discrimination, while struggling to support his widowed mother and two sisters without any outside support.
Fortunately, his family was able to move to Australia on a humanitarian visa.
"We love Australia.
"We have a new life where we can study, and get a driving licence and dream to go to university."
"We still have to work for what we want but we have the same rights as the Australian people."
Davood spoke fondly of his new freedoms, opportunities and the lack of punishments and restrictions at school and said he would like to study medicine at university.