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Community leader

28 April 2009

A radio program and community health team are just two of the activities undertaken by this Monash student to help his people.

Marama Kufi left the Oromia region of Ethiopia in 1989.

"It is very hard, especially for the first time when you flee from your village, when you risk everything and you run away. Disarray from storm of bombs and bullets. You leave everything behind; you only see saving your life. You don't know where you're going… We were traveling day and night for more than three weeks. We didn't know any direction. We didn't know the depth of the rivers; just got into them and tired to cross. In my group there were about 100, 120 people – children, young, women, older people… just walking. You live under a tree and if anyone is tired you carry them for a while, support them for a while. Three weeks," says Mr Kufi.

"Where there is no peace there is no life"

One of many Ethiopian refugees from the Oromia region displaced by civil war, Mr Kufi found himself across the border with Sudan in the Yabus refugee camp. The work he would pursue one day in supporting the Oromo community took seed in his new country of Sudan, where his literacy led him to a logistical job with an aid organisation.

In October 1999, he arrived in Melbourne with his wife Lensa Dinka and niece Ayane Galata. Mr Kufi wasted no time in enrolling in an English language course with Adult Multicultural Education Services (AMES) in his home suburb of Dandenong, the first of his many certificates and diplomas, which also include patient service assistance, IT, accounting, and Division 2 nursing. He began the Bachelor of Health Science/Bachelor of Social Work in 2006.

Mr Kufi considers himself lucky to possess the determination to make the most of his new life here in Australia, and is passionate about helping those who cannot equally seize opportunities.

"Communities with a refugee background have very complex issues. Some are very depressed, some are very stressed… because of family problems, family separation, war, conflict," he says.

"I had the same experience where I came from. That's why I want to support them. We come together, helping each other emotionally, sharing emotionally."

As part of his Health Science course, he and lecturer Dr Andrew Joyce have established the South Eastern Oromo Community Health Team, which takes a health promotion approach to the issues of mental health, family relationships, domestic violence, drug and alcohol use and the relationships between young people and their families.

Chaired by Mr Kufi, it is a collaboration between the Oromo community, Monash University, and the Cardinia-Casey and Greater Dandenong Community Health Services.

Every fortnight, the team deliver a ten minute radio spot in the Oromo language on radio station 3ZZZ, discussing health and social issues.

The team's other projects include a plan to address the issue of infection control for workers in the aged care area, many of whom come from refugee backgrounds.

Dr Joyce describes the South Eastern Oromo Community Health Team as a wonderful example of a health initiative stemming from the community.

"The opportunity for collaboration between the Oromo community in the outer south eastern suburbs, Monash and the two health services is a direct result of Head of Department Professor Helen Keleher's policy of fostering joint appointments with Monash and local health services," he says.

"Before even graduating, Marama is able to utilise the experience learnt from the course, as well as his terrific communication skills within his community…We hope that a long-term relationship can be formed to ensure that the various health needs of the Oromo community can be responded to in a manner consistent with its values."

In addition to his study and work as a Divison 2 nurse, Mr Kufi volunteers each Friday in the resettlement program of the South Eastern Migrant Resource Centre. Free time is a rarity.

He feels grateful for the support he receives from the Faculty. Set to finish his double degree at the end of this year, he hopes to work in a capacity-building role with a community organization, and – if possible – to conduct research in the area of health sciences.

"To do something for the community is my dream," he says.

Marama Kufi

Marama Kufi