A swarm of white-coat-clad doctors buzzing around a gurney upon which her little brother laid, struggling to breathe.
It’s an image emblazoned on the memory of Shepparton Nursing student Benichou (Beni) Mbenguele Massika.
It’s also the moment she decided to pursue a life in the healthcare sector.
It was an ordinary afternoon in 2010. Twelve-year-old Beni returned home from school with little more on her mind than grabbing an afternoon snack when suddenly her mother’s scream pierced the air.
She rushed to find her brother, just two years old at the time, on the ground and unresponsive. The young boy was suffering from a severe asthma attack.
As the oldest child and the most confident English speaker in her Congolese refugee family, it fell on Beni to call Triple Zero. She stayed on the phone until paramedics arrived and then travelled to hospital in the back of an ambulance alongside her ailing brother.
It was in the emergency department where that nightmarish, unforgettable episode played out.
“Just seeing them all surrounding him – about 10 of them – while me and my mum and my three-month-old sister stayed in the corner, just looking and watching what was going on, that inspired me so much,” Beni says.
“I now have a picture of myself walking down a hospital corridor in a white coat.
“It’s the one image I always see when I think about my future – that’s where I want to be in 10 years’ time. I want to have the opportunity to save a child’s life, like how they saved my little brother.”
A leader in her community
The life-and-death experience was not the first time Beni was drawn to idea of working in a hospital.
On the occasions when her mum gave birth to siblings, Beni remembers wandering the hallways of those hospitals.
She was especially drawn to the maternity wing of the hospital, where she remembers an overriding sense of peace and joy – a far cry from the manic ED where her brother was taken.
“It’s the environment where I thrive and learn the most. There’s no other place for me,” she says.
Given her cool head under pressure all those years ago, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Beni has gone on to be a leader.
She’s a Student Ambassador as well as a founding mentor of the Bradford Shepparton Pathway Program, which sees La Trobe students visit local high schools to help prepare Year 11 and 12 participants for their transition to University.
She was awarded a Women in Leadership bursary in 2018, in recognition of her service.
“It is shocking and surprising that people see me as a leader, but also amazing – people can notice things in you before you notice yourself,” Beni says.
Journey to University
It’s another wonderful achievement for Beni, who was born in the Republic of Congo before migrating to Gabon to be with her father, who’d fled his homeland during a military coup.
Beni’s family were resettled in New Zealand on January 18, 2006 – Beni remembers the date with the same vividness she recalls her brother’s race to hospital years later.
She now calls Shepparton – and the city’s La Trobe Campus – home.
“The Shepp Campus is a friendly, small campus and like a second home, and it is not an overwhelming, huge step from high school – it is an easy transition,” she says.
“Going to Uni is not just about getting your degree, making some friends and partying with friends… it has been the best time of my life.”