Graduating with a university qualification is a world away from Mona Andreas’ origins in war-ravaged Eritrea. But the Bachelor of Health Science graduate relished the contrast when he crossed the stage of the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington yesterday.
Mr Andreas, now from Palmerston North, also appreciated the fact it was that humanitarian disaster that indirectly led him to major in human health and the environment.
After fleeing the northeast African country for the comparably stable neighbour, Ethiopia, in 1998, Mr Andreas worked as health assistant in a refugee camp. It gave him first-hand accounts of the dangers of disease arising from a lack of basic living standards.
When he arrived in New Zealand as a refugee in 2003, he thought of training as a nurse but found the language barrier too difficult. “While we studied English at school in Eritrea, it is not practiced much and therefore difficult to speak. So when I arrived I had limited English. It was only through part-time study, other students at Massey and my church group that I picked it up.”
Since completing his studies at the Wellington campus, Mr Andreas has secured a 10-month contract working as a technical health protection officer at Palmerston North Hospital. His duties involve following up on disease notications and helping health protection officers with issues such as making asbestos checks on buildings and checking for the potential existence of mosquitoes accidentally flown in from overseas to Ohakea Air Force base.
Mr Andreas has no regrets about leaving his homeland. “My family stayed in Eritrea and I was the only one of my immediate family to go to Ethiopia, but if I’d stayed I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere.” The only close family he has seen in the past decade are relatives living in the United States and Canada and a cousin of his mother, who lives in Wellington. “I miss my family but I don’t have any regrets, for the important thing in life is to have freedom and to do what you want to do, and in this country you get to do that.”
Mr Andreas was one of more than 600 graduates who had degrees conferred at two ceremonies yesterday.