A second chance at life

It's been a long journey for Rwandan refugee Assumpta Akingeneye, who has made her dream career a reality after graduating from James Cook University with a Bachelor of Nursing Science degree.

Assumpta Akingeneye’s aspiration of becoming a nurse began when she was admitted to hospital at age five with a severe case of anaemia - a condition that develops when a lack of healthy red blood cells causes a reduced oxygen flow to the body’s organs.

“I was so sick,” she said. “My mum put me on her back, and she ran to the emergency department. The doctors told her that if she had come an hour later that I would have died. In my country, the nurses wore these white dresses. I saw how beautiful they were, and how they played with me, and I thought when I grow up it would be nice to be a nurse.

“My mum reminded me of this story when I choose to do nursing at a university in Rwanda."

During the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Assumpta and her family were forced to flee their home and seek refuge in Uganda. For six gruelling years, the family of five lived as refugees in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.

In 2007, The United Nations Refugee Agency granted her family Australian Humanitarian Visas which, allowed them to start a new life in Cairns.

“When we found out that we had been chosen by Australia, we sat down and we screamed," she said. "For us, it was a big relief, it was like we were born again!

“When I was on the plane coming to Australia, I kept closing and opening my eyes and thinking is this real - it was my dream come true. We felt very welcomed and accepted into Australian society.”

Assumpta and her proud family at her graduation

Assumpta and her proud family at her recent graduation for her Nursing Science degree

In 2012, Assumpta decided to go back to university to study a Bachelor of Nursing Science part-time at JCU. Before attending university, she took language courses and learnt how to speak, write and read English. The flexible study options offered by the university allowed her to take time off to raise her two young daughters.

“I decided to do my nursing degree because I wanted to give back to this beautiful country who gave me this second chance at life,” she said. “I chose to study at JCU because it is ranked as one of the best universities in the world.”

JCU’s world-class teaching and training facilities prepared Assumpta for work in hospitals.

“I enjoyed the workshops. The labs are set up like a real hospital ward - it gives you an idea of what to expect during placement. I had this feeling like wow this training is awesome!”

One of her degree highlights was the hands-on training experience that she received while on rural placements.

“I did placements in Atherton Hospital and Babinda Hospital. It was a great experience because they had time to show me stuff. I loved those rural and remote placements and the community. When my babies grow up, I want to work in a rural or remote Queensland community.”

During her studies, she took advantage of the numerous student support services supplied by JCU.

“JCU provides a lot of support to students from teaching, to study groups and counselling,” she said. “The study groups and the staff are the best because they are there to help you, and they want people to succeed.”

Assumpta recently graduated from JCU and is getting ready to apply for positions in the annual nursing graduate recruitment program.

“If I go to work in the hospital, I can help people who are sick. I can make people's days and put smiles on their faces. I feel like now I am paying back Australia.”

After she completes the 12-month graduate program, she plans on returning to university to study midwifery.

“My dream is to become the best midwife in Australia. I love to work with women and children. I would love to empower women and tell them that no matter the circumstances that they can overcome it, and achieve their dreams.”

If you too would like to be a positive force for the health of Australians, consider studying a Bachelor of Nursing Science at JCU.