From a refugee to one of the world’s top ranking universities

Every health student has a reason for choosing their particular path of study. For some, it could be a love of anatomy or a passion for helping people. But for others like UQ Bachelor of Health Science student Mokwa it may be a life-altering experience. As a Congolese refugee, Mokwa’s firsthand experience in a Malawi refugee camp sparked an interest in public health that has led him all the way to UQ.

They say we are shaped by our experiences and in my case, it was my life experience that gave me the courage to pursue a degree in health sciences at UQ. To help you understand this, I’d like to share my story with you. My name is Mokwa and I was born in May 1992, in the village of Kamanyola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I am the first son of nine children and was raised in a country full of corruption and instability.

In September 1996, during the Rwanda genocide, 11 of my family members were killed because they were part of the Tutsi minority. It was a truly devastating time and while I have since forgiven those who committed the atrocities, the loss has left a lasting impact on my family.

In 2009 for the sake of our freedom and security, my family and I finally decided to flee the Congo. We ended up in a refugee camp in Malawi – a place I never thought I would see. It was here that my beloved grandmother passed away from stomach ulcers due to stress, depression, and poor medical care. In another world, her health problems would have been easily prevented and her life could have been saved but, we did not live in that world. 

Life in the refugee camp was very hard. There was no work and at times it felt as if it would have been better to die in the Congo than suffer in the camp, but my parents pushed us to carry on with the hope that life would get better. It was during this time, that my interest in health and population health was ignited. After witnessing many incidents of violence against women and children and seeing them denied their right to health care, I knew I wanted to do something to help.

In October 2013, my family and I were granted a permanent humanitarian visa to live in Australia. I was so happy to get the privilege to be resettled and promised myself that I would work hard and create a better life for myself and others. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though. During my first year in Australia I faced many challenges including cultural differences, language issues, and adapting to a new environment. I knew I wanted to study health but people warned me about applying for a health degree at UQ - saying that I wouldn’t be accepted because of its reputation and the competitive entry requirements.

Despite this, I remained determined to turn my dream into a reality and I enrolled in a bridging course to satisfy subject requirements before submitting my application. After completing the program, I applied for the Bachelor of Health Sciences. I was elated when I was accepted into the program and I became the first person in my family to attend university.

To those considering applying for the program, it provides a broad overview of healthcare and is suited to both clinical and non-clinical health careers.

My first year of study was hard  at times but I remained motivated to make a difference and to look after people. I want to advocate for the well-being of others by taking into consideration both their physical and social health, and it is this that drives me to keep going… not without some errors along the way though.

During my first year of uni I took on a full-time study load with four subjects in my first semester. Unfortunately for me, I made the error of thinking I could cruise through and apply my high school study skills without too much extra work. I started revising two weeks before my final exams but as you can probably figure outI didn’t do so well in Human Anatomy – in fact, I ended up failing the course.

I was devastated but upon reflection I was able to pin-point where I’d gone wrong and have since made changes that have made a world of difference. So, how can you future-proof yourself from failing? Here are my tips!

Future-proof yourself from failing

  1. Firstly, acknowledge how difficult you find the subject you’re studying and put aside adequate time to learn.
  2. Study consistently and take advantage of your study resources. While studying anatomy I didn’t once visit UQ’s Gross Anatomy Facility. I thought I could just read the textbook, but a visit to the facility would have made a huge difference in solidifying the knowledge from my lectures.
  3. Don’t try to do everything at once – if you can help it. During the first semester of my health sciences degree, I was also working and undertaking a Diploma of Justice Studies. It was way too much to take on! In retrospect, I would have been better off dropping my uni workload and focusing on one thing at a time.
  4. Take advantage of all the support services UQ provides to students. The university wants every student to pass and can assist you if you’re struggling. Be sure to take on board the advice from your course coordinators and student services on how to improve your study skills.
  5. Connect with other students and keep each other motivated.
  6. Finally, don’t give up! Just because you failed once doesn’t mean you’ll fail again – in fact I am now doing really well in Human Anatomy and it has become one of my favourite subjects.  

All those years ago when my parents said that life would get better, I never believed them but they were right. I’m studying something I am passionate about and can’t wait to put my learnings into practice - even if I have to wait a few years til graduation.  

Meet the author...

My name is Mokwa Tchekanabo, and I am a second year Bachelor of Health Sciences student in the School of Public Health. I have a passion to help people and my favourite quote is from Nelson Mandela who is a real inspiration of mine, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.


Last updated:
18 October 2016