Public house now a forever home

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A Congolese refuge family who spent five years in a Malawi refugee camp fleeing armed conflict has signed a letter of offer to make their Darwin public housing property their forever home.

A Congolese refuge family who spent five years in a Malawi refugee camp fleeing armed conflict has signed a letter of offer to make their Darwin public housing property their forever home.

In 2008, the then 28-year-old Charlotte Mwaka Balu fled Congo with her seven-month-old son Elie on her hip, two-year-old daughter Valerie, and six-year-old son Pistis in tow.

Along with Charlotte’s mother Josephine, the family fled on foot to the relative safety of a United Nations run refugee camp in Malawi before being relocated to Australia in 2013.

Sitting in her Anula home, Charlotte said it was hard to talk about those desperate days but looking back made her so proud of how far her family had come.

“It just makes me so proud of where we are now,” she said.

“My kids are growing up and they are beautiful, healthy and safe and doing really well in their education.

“I’m about to start a new job at the Royal Darwin Hospital as a mental health nurse and Mum will get to spend the rest of her life safe in her own home.”

The family were granted official refugee status in 2009 but it took five years for the growing family to be relocated to Darwin.

Charlotte, who speaks 10 languages, acted as a translator in the camp and also volunteered supporting disadvantaged and disabled kids living in the camp.

“It was a hard time for the whole family but it was better being poor and being alive than being dead,” she said.

“The first opportunity we had to be resettled was in America but I said I’d rather go back to the Congo than go to America.”

“There are more guns in America than there are in the Congo and I didn’t want that for my kids.”

The family arrived in Darwin in 2013 and spent six months in a house in Wulagi, before moving to Malak where they applied for public housing and moved into their current home in Anula in 2015.

Charlotte has worked as both an interpreter, and in training carers in her time in Darwin and in 2017 was accepted into a Bachelor of Nursing degree at Charles Darwin University.

Earlier this year, Charlotte exceeded the maximum salary to continue to receive public housing and made an application to buy her house, which was accepted.

“Having access to public housing has helped our family out a lot and helped us save our money,” she said.

“This really does feel like it is our home so I’m really excited for this to actually be our home.”

Deputy Chief Executive of Housing with Territory Families, Housing and Communities Brent Warren said the family was an inspiration.

“It is impossible not to be moved by the strength and resilience of Charlotte’s family and congratulations on your new home,” he said.

“This is public housing at its very best.

“I’m proud that our agency could support Charlotte and her family to find their feet while they were working towards standing on their own.”

Josephine will turn 85 on Christmas Day and Charlotte starts her new job at Royal Darwin Hospital on 27 October.

Pistis is now 18 and a passionate rugby union player and fan. Valerie is 16 and wants to study medicine after finishing high school, and Elie is a talented young basketball player with dreams of becoming an army medic.

Charlotte said relocating to Australia had given her family a second chance at life.

“Australia is the best country with lovely people who have made me feel like we belong and that I have love in our life,” she said.

Josephine, her daughter Charlotte in their forever home.

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