Augustin Kadende grew up in a refugee camp in Malawi after his family fled armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He didn’t start learning English until coming to Australia in grade 4.
In March he started a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, the first step in his dream of becoming a human rights lawyer.
The young athletics star, who excels over 100 and 200 metres, took part in last years On Track Program for African-Australian high school students interested in athletics and tertiary study.
Participants met current staff and students, made new friends, became familiar with the Parkville campus and its faculties, and were mentored by student-athletes from the Melbourne University Athletics Club.
“I’m from a pretty different background…so the opportunity to come to a program with people from a similar background at the best university in Australia was one I couldn’t really miss,” Augustin, or AK as he’s known, told MU Sport.
“My favourite part about coming to Australia is that you have a lot of support, which is also what I liked about On Track. You have people that are continuously going to help you through everything, which I feel like is really important for young people these days.”
The Program is a partnership with the Melbourne University Athletics Club, which counts National Champions and University of Melbourne students Catriona Bisset and Jemima Montag among its members.
He chose to study at the University because of its history and reputation.
“The environment, the people you meet – it’s just incredible…why wouldn’t I work hard to get here? A few of my school captains and house leaders have all been to the University of Melbourne. Seeing them succeed in life, there’s a sure pathway to success by coming here.”
But it wasn’t always easy growing up in Australia. He entered primary school in grade 4, despite never having been educated or learned English.
“I came to Australia towards the end of 2010. They gave me a couple of months to learn as much English as I could to start in grade 4.”
“I had no prior education, had never been to school, didn’t know anything, had never read a book in my life, and I didn’t know the alphabet. It was quite a struggle for the first few months to learn English.”
His early childhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo has informed the career he wants to pursue – becoming a human rights lawyer or working for the United Nations.
“The stuff I saw in refugee camps in Malawi and in the civil war (in the Democratic Republic of Congo), it puts a different perspective on the world,” he said.
“I want to alleviate other people’s suffering.”
He’s already begun this journey by starting conversations around masculinity and mental health in his community, for which he was recognised as Hobsons Bay’s Young Citizen of the Year in January.
On Track was funded through the University’s Equity Innovation Grant in 2019, and is now seeking funding for the program to continue into 2020 and beyond.
“I would love to be an On Track mentor and give back to the program that has given me so much.”