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It was a quiet afternoon in the University of Canberra library when I received an email that brought tears to my eyes.

The first two lines read: 

“Congratulations! We are delighted to advise that you have been awarded a UC Foundation Scholarship.”

My name is Atosha Birongo and thanks to the generosity of the community I have recently become the first person in my family to receive a university degree, graduating from the University of Canberra with a Bachelor of Politics and International Relations in March this year.

I was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a family of nine children. Devastatingly, when civil war broke out our lives were turned upside down, shattering my secure and happy childhood. My father was forced to move away for his safety, leaving my mother as the sole provider for my siblings and me. Just months later, we were forced to separate again, moving to the neighbouring country of Kenya as refugees, where we lived in a one bedroom flat with five people.

I was required to work after school to support my family, as my parents were without work. In 2017 my family was granted a humanitarian visa by Australia, and we resettled in Wodonga, Victoria. While this was a blessing, once again I was forced to grapple with a new country, a new way of life, and another new school.

While still learning English myself, I felt the pressure of being my parents’ English translator – for their banking, medical and Centrelink appointments – and attending parent teacher interviews for my younger brother. I struggled with unfamiliar technology, and experienced prejudice, bias, and racism so extreme it almost discouraged me from continuing my studies.

But deep down I knew that education is powerful enough to change a life and I was determined to change mine. I pushed myself hard, signed up for every opportunity, connected with other students, and threw myself into my studies. In 2020 I was honoured to be selected as one of eight UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors and receive an unconditional offer to study at the University of Canberra.

This was incredible news, but I found it hard to imagine how I might afford my university journey. After moving to Australia, while my parents were studying English, they were unable to work, making financial support a challenge. On top of my studies, I had to juggle my position at UNICEF while supporting my family, making it almost impossible to complete my degree.

In 2022 I was awarded a UC Foundation Scholarship, which gave me new hope. The scholarship allowed me to focus on my academics and continue with my university studies, without the added burden of financial stress. Earlier this year I graduated and hearing my name called, and walking across the stage to receive my certificate, was one of the proudest moments of our lives, for my family and me.

The 2022 Student Support Appeal awarded 17 UC Foundation Scholarships to students from rural or remote areas, Indigenous and refugee backgrounds, and students living with a disability. Unfortunately, 56 other eligible applicants missed out, leaving them without access to financial support, that could make or break their university dreams.

As a grateful recipient of a UC Foundation Scholarship, I ask you to consider giving a gift this end of financial year, to the Student Support Appeal to help students like me rise above adversity and achieve their dreams. No donation is too big or too small and will collectively make a huge difference to a student’s life, just like me.

Thank you to all past, present, and future donors. Your support means that I, and many others have equal access to tertiary education and the ability to achieve our dreams.

“I am proud to be a real-life example of how education changes lives.”

- Atosha Birongo, 2022 UC Foundation Scholarship Recipient

Atosha at her graduation.
Image: Atosha at her graduation.

Atosha and her family at her graduationImage: Atosha with her family at her graduation.

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