From war-torn Liberia to Griffith

Sanesie Dukuly

Graduating with an Australian university degree is a great milestone for anyone. But it is even greater for someone who starts out in life as a refugee, can barely speak English until the age of 15 and then goes on to be the founder of the Griffith Refugee Students Association.

Sanesie Dukuly, 27, is that student, who next week (Tuesday Aug 6) will graduate from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Human Services.

Starting off life in the civil war-torn countries of Liberia, Ivory Coast and Guinea, Sanesie arrived in Perth as a refugee with family in 2005.

“My English was next to non-existent and it was pretty hard to get a start in life,” he says.

“I was pretty lonely too and with having to send money home to other family members, I didn’t have a lot to live on. After a brief move to Sydney I then moved onto Brisbane in 2006 where I found work in a meat factory and then in airport security.

Aiming for a career in community services

“Because of some of the traumatic experiences I had had as a refugee I eventually decided to do a full-time TAFE course in Juvenile Justice alongside a certificate in English. I loved what I learnt and the course gave me the impetus to start aiming for a career in the community services field.”

In 2011, Sanesie was accepted at Griffith’s Logan campus where he managed to successfully combine degree study with work as a mentor for the university’s Uni Key Program, a peer mentoring program which supports undergraduate students in their first year.

“We have seen increasing numbers of refugee background students coming to study at Griffith and it has been great to be able to provide them with a formal support structure as part of their time at uni.”

As the president and founder of the Griffith Refugee Students Association, Sanesie is also busy compiling a database of new members and extending the group’s reach from Logan to Nathan and Mt Gravatt campuses.

“I am very passionate about community engagement and working to support migrants and refugees from any country, especially those from culturally or linguistically diverse countries,” says the married father of two.

“Coming from a difficult background myself, where it would not have been possible to have a secure future, I am extremely grateful to Griffith. Achieving my degree has really changed the whole trajectory of my life. I now feel confident to be able to go out into the community to support people in need and make a difference in people’s lives.”

Making an impact

“Sanesie has been a truly wonderful student and mentor for others, winning an award for academic achievement in the school and making a real impact on the life of Logan campus,” say Professor Lesley Chenoweth, head of Logan campus.

“His journey from conflict in Liberia to graduation at Griffith exemplifies many of our students who overcome seemingly impossible odds to create new lives. Through his work with refugee students, Sanesie has led the way for many people from the refugee community coming to study with us.

“They have so much to offer and are some of the most resilient people I have met.

“I know Sanesie will make a difference wherever he is in the world.”

For more information on courses and career options please visit