‘I feel like I have been reborn in Australia’

By Ilias Bakalla

Safety, security and a renewed faith in humanity have come into Corine Rebecca Muchinya's life since she and her three-year-old son Benedict James Bwihambi arrived in Shepparton.

Two months ago they escaped their war-torn past, to be reunited with their husband and father respectively, Mercelin Bwihambi, for the first time in three years.

“I feel like I have been reborn in Australia,” Ms Muchinya said.

“Now I am getting a lot of help from white people, which didn't happen in Africa.

“We used to fear white people.”

Bob and Liz Watts are two of the people who have been helping Ms Muchinya.

They met Mercelin Bwihambi through St Paul's Lutheran Church and have volunteered their time to help the family adjust to life in Shepparton.

Bob Watts, Benedict James Bwihambi, Mercelin Bwihambi, Liz Watts and Corine Rebecca Muchinya at the front of their Shepparton home.

Mr Watts said he and his wife helped provide some "short cuts" to help the family settle in.

“We help out with finding jobs, accommodation, driver's licences, and I service Mercelin's car,” Mr Watts said.

“But she (Ms Muchinya) needs to get out and about and meet the community; it is hard because she does not have family here like Mercelin does.

“Her English is excellent so she will have no trouble making friends.”

Mr Bwihambi is quick to point out that while he has his brothers here, both he and Ms Muchinya have lost their parents.

“Bob and Liz are like family for us . . . in fact they are more than family,” he said.

“I feel like I can cry, they are so special to us.”

Tears start to well up in Ms Muchinya's eyes as she reflects on the tragic murder of her father in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mercelin Bwihambi and Corine Rebecca Muchinya with their son Benedict James Bwihambi.

She said in Africa she couldn't sleep at night for fear for her life, and she would wake up every day thinking it could be her last.

“Now I can sleep very well in Australia, I feel safe because there is peace and I know the government and community will protect me from any bad people,” she said.

“My future is very big in Australia. I want to study English, learn about Australian culture and have more babies.”

Mr Bwihambi said back in Africa Ms Muchinya wanted to be a nurse.

But Ms Muchinya said her plans were different now.

“I want to be a doctor, not the nurse,” she said.

Ms Muchinya said she could speak four languages.

“French, Ugandan, Swahili and a little bit of English,” she said with a smile.

Mr Watts regularly visits a number of newly-arrived families and helps them with settling into Shepparton.

“It is important . . . these families are Australia's future,” he said.