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Refugee who fled war in Congo dreams of working on farmshare project in Ipswich

Eraston Bikumbania

Free to farm: Eraston Bikumbania grew up on a farm in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is hoping to use his agrarian skills in a new farmshare project seeking public support from the Ipswich City Council. Photo: Queensland Community Alliance.

CONGOLESE refugee Eraston Bikumbania is reaching out to the Ipswich City Council to revive a dream that was taken from him by an explosive war that landed him in Australia.

Mr Bikumbania is the 11th child of two farmers and dreamed of one day toiling the land like his parents.

A new farmshare co-op that is seeking public support from the Ipswich City Council could help Mr Bikumbania achieve his farming dream, which was dashed by war.

Mr Bikumbania was teaching in a primary school in 1998 when he heard bullets being fired outside the classroom, marking the beginning of the Second Congo War.

He fled to the nearby mountains, and watched as many people around him, including children and elderly, died.

Miraculously Mr Bikumbania survived but, to save his life, he fled to a refugee camp in Kenya, leaving behind his family and a fiancée Brigitte.

He remained in the camp for nine years, working as a teacher and as a medical clerk in a hospital, before coming to Australia in 2008.

While living in the refugee camp, Mr Bikumbania lost all contact with his fiancée.

“We had nine years with no communication because of the situation in our country,” he said.

He thought he had completely lost touch with her when, in 2010, one of his brothers living overseas happened to be studying in a class with Brigitte’s brother.

The Bikumbania family were able to track down Brigitte in the Congo and, with advice from Mr Bikumbania’s migration sponsor, made plans to bring her to Australia.

She arrived in Australia on January 1, 2014, and the couple was married in a Pentecostal church ceremony in Brisbane on February 8, 2014. They now have one daughter who turns two this month.

Now the 43-year-old leader of the Congolese community in Brisbane who is struggling to find work is ready to fulfil his dreams of owning a farm in Australia.

He and other refugees are calling on the Ipswich City Council to back a new co-op designed to support struggling refugees from agrarian families.

Supported by several Queensland communities, including the Queensland Community Alliance which has a partnership with the Archdiocese of Brisbane, the Okie Dokie farmshare project would give asylum seekers and refugees with agrarian backgrounds a chance to resettle in Ipswich as farmers.

Okie Dokie organisers have already found a plot of land near Rosewood but require planning approval from the Ipswich council.

Mr Bikumbania said he would grow organic produce such as peanuts, beans, cassava and tomatoes.

“I know the value of farms, and if I get a chance to work with this organisation in this project, I am one-hundred per cent willing to work for the good of the community,” he said.

“In Australia, I have an education, and qualifications, but I struggle to find work, but if I have some land where I can plant something, I can depend on myself, and manage my land to help myself and others.

“I also hope to help the lives of Australian people, because people need good food to be healthy.

“People are suffering from many sicknesses, diabetes, and that is because of a lack of natural foods.”

Mr Bikumbania, who is a leader for his local Pentecostal church, also believes as a Christian, good food is important for the soul.

“As a Christian, to be healthy in soul, I need a healthy body,” he said. “As I eat healthy food, it gives me strength to stand and work for God.”

Supporters of the project are meeting at a QCA assembly at Ipswich City Uniting Church to question the mayoral candidates ahead of a council election on August 19.

Parishioners from the Booval Catholic parish, including pastoral ministry co-ordinator Donna Conway, are expected to attend the meeting, being held today from 11am.

A representative from the QCA said the assembly would ask for principal support of the Okie Dokie farmshare project and public support to improve access to mental health services in Ipswich.

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