ZIMBABWEAN refugee Felix Machiridza has been held captive for his political activism in his home country; yet he bears a staggering degree of resilience and hope.
As a journalist and vocal opponent of the Zimbabwean government at the peak of its dictatorship in the early 2000s, Felix risked his life to report on the corruption and human rights abuses committed by those in power.
He was frequently held captive, tortured and abused.
“Because international media had been banned in Zimbabwe, there was a need for people to let the international community know what was happening,” he says.
“I just felt that I had to do it, had to tell the truth, and alert the community on what was happening. That way, I felt I could play my own part to bring peace to my country.”
Felix was granted a protection visa in 2010 to stay in Australia after it was deemed too dangerous for him to return to Zimbabwe.
The promise of a new life in Canberra left behind perilous circumstances in Zimbabwe, with political violence leading to the deaths of his mother and cousin.
Felix still can’t talk about his family or where they are now, for fear of exposing them to further danger.
He says in his first few days in Australia, he struggled to shake the feeling of dread that had gripped him for years.
“I wanted to run when I first saw the police, because anyone in uniform to me posed a threat – that’s what I had experienced,” he says.
“It took quite some time to say, ‘no, these guys are here to protect me’.
“There was also a sense of immense relief. I felt a huge weight had been taken off me. And again, I was overwhelmed by the sense of freedom. I could say anything I wanted without watching my back or without worrying about someone sitting next to me.”
Soon after arriving in Canberra, Felix decided he wanted to help other migrants and refugees going through the same experience as him.
He received a scholarship last year from Canberra Refugee Support to study social work at the Australian Catholic University, and has been working part time as a case manager at the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Service, helping newly arrived migrants and refugees gain access to basic services such as food, transport, accommodation and counselling.
“I want to help these people rekindle and re-launch themselves,” he says.
“I believe different life experiences, both negative and positive, only serve to teach us lessons which we should use as stepping stones to reaching our goals in the future, and that when we experience negative things it doesn’t mean all is lost, there’s always a silver lining.”
When he finishes his degree next year, Felix hopes to pursue a career in social work or social justice.
“I think, as a social worker, I could bring positive change to people in need, people who have experienced the same situation or life as me and people who are challenged by different situations – people who think everything is lost,” he says.
“My belief is there is nothing that is impossible, there is always a way.” Felix recently found a rental property in Ainslie, where he says he is “very settled.”
After more than two years here, he says Canberra feels like home.
“It’s not very difficult for me to walk in the Canberra Centre and have up to 10 people greeting me personally that I know,” he says.
“Just their smile and acknowledgement makes me have a sense of being at home, and even if I were to travel to another city and come back I have this sense of relief, to say, ‘ah, home at last’.”