Smiles: A family hug to mark a joyous moment.
Smiles: A family hug to mark a joyous moment.

Australia's gift to Mami

AS Australians, we take our freedom, choice and opportunity for granted but newly naturalised Mami Coco Nyiramuruta will never make that mistake.

Having lived through war, the brutal murder of her husband and a bashing that brought her within an inch of her life in the Congo, the gift of her Australian citizenship last week here in Coffs Harbour couldn’t have meant more.

“My life in the Congo was very bad,” Mami Coco said.

It started with discrimination. People in her home country denied she was Congolese, saying she looked like she was ‘Tutsi’ – a foreigner from Rwanda.

“The Government started genocide against Tutsi people. The soldiers came and threw petrol on my husband and set him on fire, he was burned alive,” she said.

“They cut me all over and beat me, I was dying. They set fire to the house. Someone took my children away; I had no idea where they were.

“All of my family was killed, everyone in my village.”

Fortunately it was the local Pastor who had taken Mami Coco’s seven children into care and she was later found by an aid group from Belgium, who nursed her back to health.

It took three months to recover and when she was better, she and her children were sent to a refugee camp in Rwanda – where they spent the next 10 years.

“I was not happy, there was no school for my children, no good food – then people started telling me I shouldn’t be there because I was Congolese. In Congo they say I wasn’t Congolese – I was not happy, all day I used to cry and cry and cry.”

Things looked up for Mami Coco and her family when an American aid organisation said it would help her and her children leave the country – but it was too good to be true.

“They told me they didn’t believe me, they were not my children because I was so young,” she said.

“Then a man from Australia came and he told me that government would help me and take my family there – I didn’t even know where Australia was.

And in June 2007, Mami Coco and her children came to Australia to start a better life.

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