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These former refugees say resilience and patience are the keys to their STEM success

Once refugees, Kuer and Evana have overcome big challenges to secure their career in STEM, and now they want to take their knowledge where it’s needed most

When terrorist group ISIS came to Evana Jibraeel’s home town in Iraq she was just nine years old. Shortly after, Evana witnessed the death of a close friend and was powerless to help — a life-changing moment that locked in her ambition to one day become a surgeon.

“Everyone was panicking. There were no doctors around, and all I could do was put pressure on the wound. I decided I never wanted to be in that situation again,” Evana says.

Little over a decade later, Evana is studying a Bachelor of Pre-Medicine, Science and Health at the University of Wollongong and hopes to one day open a clinic of her own helping people unable to afford surgery.

“I can also go overseas wherever the doctors are needed,” Evana says.

Like Evana, Kuer Dot had considered becoming a surgeon — in her case a neurosurgeon — before her sister suggested her visual learning style and maths ability would be better suited to engineering.

“And I’m like, okay, maybe I can go build roads in my country,” Kuer says.

Today, Kuer is working as a site engineer for a civil engineering company, with a goal of one day returning to her home country of South Sudan to work as a water engineer.

“My home country is a developing nation, and it is crucial to me that I utilise the skills I have acquired via my education and work experience back home,” Kuer says.

“My objective is to provide citizens with clean and safe water.”

Kuer is now well on the path of doing so, having recently leveraged mentors she has had at university to connect with Non-Government Organisations and companies looking for water engineers in South Sudan.

Staying strong

Both Evana and Kuer had to overcome some pretty terrifying challenges to reach their STEM career goal.

After leaving Iraq, Evana stayed in a refugee camp for a year, where there was no clean water, no school, and not enough food. She then travelled to Lebanon as a way to get a visa to go to Australia. Her family struggled financially to make ends meet, working in cleaning to pay the rent for their small home in an empty shop.

Evana says resilience was what got her through then, and it’s what continues to be the thing helping her manage her studies and part-time work in a pharmacy.

“If you don’t have resilience, then you will not get anywhere. Being a doctor, you have to understand that there will be burnout. There will be situations where you can’t just quit,” Evana says.

“I’ve seen fellow students quit pre-medicine because they can’t take it anymore. So at the end of the day you just have to be passionate about what you’re doing and have resilience, because life happens, and it’s not always bright and shiny.”

When moving to Australia from Kenya in 2015, Kuer had completed just one year of high school and completing a Diploma in Civil Construction and Design, faced ongoing financial struggles.

Encouraged by her friends and family to pursue her dream career, Kuer was accepted into Western Sydney University’s Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Civil Engineering).

She managed part-time study with part-time work and after becoming an Australian citizen in 2021 was able to undertake her studies on a full-time basis.

“Going through these experiences to get to this point shaped me in ways I would not have expected. I had a plan, but the universe thought otherwise,” Kuer says.

“There were times when I wanted to give up but the fire in me and the people who saw something in me pushed me beyond my limits.”

Her words of advice to students interested in studying STEM is to find a mentor, network, ask questions and apply themselves to their studies.

“My own experience has taught me to be patient and have faith that things will always work out.”

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