On the Australia Day weekend, Jacqueline Bigirimana walked us through the remnants of her home in Kenwick, which burned to the ground on December 4, 2012. As we picked through the rubble, she found the charred remains of her wedding dress. She had taken it with her when she fled Burundi and crossed the Tanzanian border. The dress survived 13 years in an African refugee camp, only to get destroyed in a house fire in suburban Perth. It was an emotional moment.
On that sweltering Perth day in December when the Bigirimana family’s rental home went up in flames, Jacqueline’s dreams were shattered. Most of their possessions were so severely damaged as to be unsalvageable. None of the contents were insured. Police believe the blaze was caused by an electrical fault.
To add to the family’s distress, on the day of the fire Perth was in the middle of the worst heatwave in 60 years. Jacqueline’s car broke down and she had no roadside assistance to call on. The next two nights the family stayed at an emergency shelter and in the seven weeks since they’ve been living with friends in hot and overcrowded conditions.
But the Bigirimana family is no stranger to tragedy.
When her husband was killed in war-torn Burundi, Jacqueline Bigirimana fled on foot into Tanzania. She took her daughter Suvis, 4, her son Enoch, 2, and her eight-month-old baby daughter Nadine to a refugee camp, where they stayed for 13 years. Jacqueline and her children were constantly unsettled by having to move from one part of the camp to another. They were able, eventually, to build a shelter with a tarpaulin roof that became their home. But the refugee camp was unsafe for a young widow with small children. In painful circumstances we will not describe here, she became pregnant and a baby boy, Nepmsein, was born.
While there was some schooling for the children, life in the refugee camp was always difficult. When the family boarded a plane for Western Australia in October 2008 none had ever heard of Australia, nor did they speak any English. They were settled in Perth and before long the children went to school. Though they were all older than the other pupils in their classes, they began to learn English.
This fire could hardly have happened at a more difficult time for the children’s study. Enock is 20 and, after completing a Security Certificate last year so that he could find work, is to begin Legal Services study at the Perth College of TAFE. This will prepare him to go to university to study law. Jacqueline’s daughters are both entering Year 12 this year – such an important year! The eldest, Suvis who is 22, is at Northlakes. Nadine, now 18, intends train in nursing when she graduates from Lynwood High at the end of the year. Nepmsein is 13, is also at Lynwood and going into Year 9. They’re all a little shy – Nepmsein is the shyest – but they really like their schools.
Jacqueline continues to work on her English and in 2012 commenced study towards her Childcare Certificate. She remains committed to building a better life for herself and her children, and to her own economic independence.
Just before the fire they had been planning to buy a computer to assist with everyone’s study. Losing their home to fire has been a devastating setback.
Perth is currently facing a public housing crisis. There are 20,000 people on the waiting list to receive housing. Jacqueline and her family are unable to be accommodated nearby. The only government accommodation available to the family is in the south-eastern suburb of Coolingup, 48 kilometres from their current home and schools. Public transport is difficult at the best of times in Perth, and the move will swallow up to four hours a day with bus and train journeys if they stay in their current schools, as they, naturally, wish to do.
Being unable to remain in their local community means so much loss for the family, both emotionally and financially. Enock has supplemented the family’s income by working before and after school in gardening and cleaning jobs. He will now have to give up those jobs as he cannot travel, work and study.
The other children are desperate to remain at their current schools. Nadine is determined to complete her final year at Lynwood and she would also like Nepmsein, her little brother, to remain at the same high school so she can look out for him. This only seems possible if she drives, but she does not have a car and has no way of getting one. Meanwhile, Enock needs to be in Perth for a 7am start and using public transport will be difficult for him. He drives an old red Holden, which “breaks all the time”, he says.
Reliable transport for the family is a challenge and help is needed. Jacqueline is keen to get the family settled before school commences. So we’re appealing for your assistance, in cash or kind, to help this lovely family get back on their feet.
Here’s what we’re looking to do:
$1,040 per month will subsidise the family’s contribution to the rent. Our target is $6,240 for six months. Our aim is to deposit the funds directly with the housing authority and so relieve the family of some of the financial stress through the first half of the school year. Donations of cash via direct EFTPOS into the family’s electricity account would also be enormously helpful.
Donations of goods, services and gift cards
- Large reliable fridge/freezer, top-loading washing machine and microwave oven are essential
- Six dining chairs – the family saved a table but the chairs were lost to the fire.
- Twenty Target gift cards of $50 each would enable the family to replace bedding, kitchen, bathroom and personal items lost in the fire. Coles or Woolworths gift cards will help with stocking the pantry. Gift cards of any denomination are gratefully accepted.
Three things would make study and assignments a whole lot easier for everyone:
- We have sourced a PC and a Mac laptop for two of the children already. Two more new or refurbished Apple Mac laptops would make a huge difference.
- Small laser printer (+ /– some extra cartridges) would also help everyone with assignments (we don’t think they could afford the consumables on an inkjet).
Other contributions that would help include:
- A year’s broadband internet would assist Jacqueline in submitting her assignments enabling her to complete her Childcare Certificate and so find work.
- A smartphone for Enock would be a great idea as he is the “organiser” but we realise it’s a big ask.
- A Digital TV would be very nice.
- A double or queen size ensemble for Jacqueline.
· Volunteers to service and repair Jacqueline’s Ford and Enock’s Holden to make them reliable
· A reliable and fuel-efficient car for Nadine to get her and Nepmsein to and from Lynwood High each day
· A year’s insurance and RAC membership covering each car
Private Rental Accommodation
Ideally the family would like to remain close to their friends, their community and the children’s school, but this is not possible at the moment (unless someone has an affordable rental available now in the Maddington/Kenwick area).
We have no doubt they will make the best of their new situation – they’ve survived much worse. With your help we can remove some of the obstacles and help them get them back on their feet. In turn they will remain active contributors in the community and move closer to the economic independence they are working so hard to achieve.
** Note – this successful campaign was ported over from iPledg 2.0. Whilst there were a large number of backers who assisted the campaign in reaching its target, their number and details are not shown here