When he fled his home in Burundi, a small country in central Africa, Dieudonne (Dious) Ininahazwe was just a young boy of seven. Civil war drove his family to the neighbouring country of Tanzania, where they lived in a refugee camp for 13 years. After being granted a humanitarian visa, Dious arrived in Coffs Harbour to begin a new life.
The first years in his new home were challenging. “Although we felt physically safe, that we didn't have to worry about war or being attacked and things like that, we didn't really have any connection or understanding of where we were. What life should look like at that stage was very confusing. I had a lot of difficulties because I didn’t speak English and we had no connections,” he recalls.
“But Australia has some good people and we made friends. I studied an English program at a community college before redoing my final high school years. It was quite embarrassing to say the least as I was 21 going into Year 11, but I didn’t care too much because I had a goal to build myself up and give myself a second chance,” Dious said.
Dious continued to upskill. First he worked in schools as a support teacher for children from diverse backgrounds, and then he moved into community work to support refugees in Coffs Harbour.
“Working as a support teacher, I saw the way refugee kids are treated in schools was very different. They may initially have language difficulties so they were given easier lessons or exercises to do but rather than motivating them to work harder, they would just use it as an excuse not to try. What they needed was to be shown the steps to get to where the other kids were.
“I felt the support I could offer in this situation was not adequate. So I made an appointment with a career adviser at Southern Cross and spoke to them about what I wanted to do. This was the first time I had ever heard about psychology,” he said.
Dious enrolled in a Bachelor of Psychological Science and Honours year at Southern Cross University Coffs Harbour campus. It proved to be a life-changing experience as he developed the skills to work with complex cases and began the pathway to registration as a clinical psychologist.
“The psychology team at Southern Cross University was fantastic because even as different and unique as I was, I always felt included, respected and accepted. I remember many times having a coffee with my lecturer. It’s quite a unique experience to know a lecturer can actually spare a minute just to sit with you and talk,” Dious said.
“It was also lovely being at a small university because the class sizes are small, so there is always time to ask questions and get support. Every teacher I interacted with had the aspiration of wanting me to succeed, which made all the difference.”
“Psychology is one of those disciplines that’s a lifelong learning and that's the humbling part of it. The more you know, or you learn, the more you realise there is to learn.”
Dious now works as a therapeutic specialist for Life Without Barriers, providing psychological intervention for children in care and psychosocial education for their carers.
He visits families in their homes and works with them to provide a safe and comfortable space for children in the foster care system.
“The traditional way of doing therapy, where the child is dropped off at your office for their appointment is not as effective as actually working with the whole family in the home as a way of improving the quality of life for that young person. Because the responsibility doesn’t just sit with the child to be the one to grow and change,” Dious said.
“It’s a very challenging job, but extremely rewarding. I feel really privileged to be able to work directly with kids, but at the same time also influence their environment by working with their carer. I try to develop their understanding of the child’s background and how their experience of neglect and abuse may have affected their capacity to regulate emotions, or to communicate their needs in a healthy manner. This helps the carer to understand and respond to the child positively rather than reactively,” he said.
“I think my background has given me tremendous resilience, to understand that yes, you're going to face difficulties, but it’s a problem-solving process. No matter how big the problem is, you just need to stick with it. Like climbing a mountain, you don’t just jump to the top, you take one step at a time. The important thing is not to give up.
“The most rewarding part of the job is when I can see there is a positive trend in my client's life, where there are those gleams of light and that young person is starting to have hope for a better future.”
Learn more about studying psychological science at Southern Cross University.
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