Ekyonge is the elder of the Townsville Congolese Community and his role is to establish and maintain peace, love and harmony within his community. He helps new Congolese refugees and migrants integrate into life in the Townsville community.
This includes teaching people how to shop, encouraging learning English, and how to start simply and to not break the law as some things that are accepted in Congolese culture are not accepted in Australian culture. For instance, polygamy is not permitted in Australia, you can be arrested for drinking and getting drunk in public, there’s a chance you could lose your children to child protective services if you smack them, and you need a drivers licence to drive a car.
One of the biggest challenges as an elder is the fact that different Congolese refugees and migrants come from different regions in the Congo and therefore have preconceived ethnic prejudices about each other. Through education and encouragement Ekyonge continues to try overcome these prejudices in order to help form a strong Congolese community in Townsville.
Another challenge he faces is teaching Congolese people how to maintain their own culture while learning from and integrating with other cultures. This conflict is most noticeable in Congolese children who attend Australian schools. He believes it’s important to pass along Congolese culture and heritage to the children to keep Congolese culture strong for future generations while still discovering or adapting elements of other cultures into the community.
Ekyonge was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a small village called Fizi. It was peaceful in the beginning but when the war began he fled to Tanzania. He found that the refugee camp in Tanzania was poor quality with insufficient food and in Tanzania he was not given refugee status. So he travelled to a refugee camp in a second country, Mozambique, but was still not given refugee status. Ekyonge then illegally entered Zambia and in this country he was given refugee status. It was in Zambia, 12 years after leaving his small village of Fizi that he met Australian immigration and in 2012 moved to Australia.
In Australia Ekyonge is happy that everyone has the opportunity to represent their own culture in a multicultural society, is proud to be called Australian, and he is looking forward to being able to vote.
Ekyonge is most proud when he can organise and find funding for a Congolese event and is most happy when he sees the Congolese community comfortably living together and celebrating their culture. Ekyonge believes that migrant communities must develop a spirit of love and gather together to help each other.
“We come from everywhere, have different languages and backgrounds, but despite our differences its always better to come together and help each other, and together we can develop the feeling of being home.
Thank you to Michael Bromage for helping us tell Ekyonge’s story, this story was made in collaboration with ABC Open: read these stories and more on ABC Open.
Photo by Michael Bromage.