Refugee student wins national award for aged care

Jolie Kaja decided to pursue a career in aged care after she arrived in the coastal regional centre three years ago.

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Whether at home or work, Jolie Kaja says she spends her days doing what she loves most — caring for others.

“I love to help other people, because, when I help them, I feel happy.”

That generous spirit rarely goes unnoticed by those around her.

And, now, her compassion and hard work have been recognised with the national Community Education Student of the Year award.

Fellow aged-care worker Jane Donovan says Ms Kaja adapted quickly to the profession right from the start.

“Jolie’s very compassionate. I saw that straightaway in her. She’s very caring towards the residents. And, yeah, I wanted to take her under my wing,* and I saw a lot of potential in Jolie, and, yeah, she’s beautiful, a beautiful (lady).”

For Ms Kaja, helping others is a natural instinct, something she has done all her life.

Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she worked as a Red Cross volunteer but was forced to flee her home when war broke out 10 years ago.

She sought shelter at a refugee camp in Zambia, where she lived for seven years as a single mother looking after her four daughters.

“It was very hard. If you are not strong, it’s very … It’s terrible. The people who are living in the refugee camps, they’re suffering too much.”

Ms Kaja and her family were resettled as refugees in Coffs Harbour, on New South Wales’ north coast.

She is fluent in French, Swahili and several other African languages but did not know a word of English when she arrived.

She took up English language classes at TAFE and went on to study aged care as a way to give back to the community.

One of her trainers, Amanda Johnston, from Coffs Coast Community College, says the staff was impressed by Ms Kaja’s ability and willingness to learn.

“She came across as an extremely caring student, to start with, but she did have difficulties with language. And she overcame all those barriers and proved us all very wrong. And she actually shone in the class and was extremely liked by all her classmates.”

Ms Kaja now works at the Saint Joseph’s Aged Care facility in Coffs Harbour.

New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro presented the award to her.

“Jolie’s an example of a great refugee story, from being a refugee single mum of four, who’s used community college and the opportunity to learn some skills in a sector that is growing, like aged care, and her contribution will be like the many before her, refugees and migrants, that have made this nation the great nation that we are.”

After all she has achieved and all she has seen, Ms Kaja says she is determined to use her new skills to continue helping others.

And she has a dream.

“My dream is to take this knowledge to Congo and Zambia to help others. Yeah, my dream.”