IT'S the early 2000s and a young Congolese boy is at home with his family of eight.
As a boy, Sadiki Musaka has seen people shot dead in the very street he lives in. It is common for other boys as young as 10-years-old to carry high-powered assault rifles.
His country is locked in a bloody war with other African nations, a conflict that will go on to become the deadliest war in Africa's history and the worst since World War II.
Armed forces often march through the streets recruiting children for combat.
Most of the time the children or their families have little choice - they are threatened with death if they do not join.
But with a protective father, Gilbert, who is desperate not to see his sons join the violent army, Sadiki avoids recruitment and the subsequent bloodshed.
"Sometimes we would be in the house and we would have to get down and hide away from the armies that were passing by," Sadiki recalls, remembering back to when he was four.
"My dad was always moving us around trying to get us away from the army.
"Every time there would be someone from the army talking to different families, my father would tell us to hide to protect us from them. We would get down and hide at home or hide up in the mountains."
Sadiki and his family live somewhat the life of nomads.
He is educated intermittently and although both of his parents are teachers, often finds himself out of school as his family constantly tries to escape the danger of war.
Eventually his mother, Bridget, and eldest sister, Helen, take the painstaking risk of separating from the rest of the family and fleeing to Malawi.
It will be two years until they meet again, although there is a very real possibility this could be the final goodbye.
Almost by chance, the family reunites in an emotional meeting in a refugee camp in Malawi.
"She (mum) looked a bit strange because I hadn't seen her for about two years," Sadiki said.
"I just thought they would be moving us to somewhere else, I had never even heard of Australia"
"When I saw her it was a great time, my dad was there crying. It was a really exciting moment."
The family was back together, but the struggle was far from complete.
Death is everywhere at African refugee camps.
Famine and disease are the biggest killers, but they are certainly not immune from violence, despite their inhabitants generally trying to escape the clutches of war.
"You'd have to fight to survive in Malawi. There were always people trying to steal your stuff and steal your resources, it was pretty bad," Sadiki said.
"There are young kids trying to act like authority, bashing other people and taking their stuff. We were just trying to survive as long as possible."
Even after four years, there was never any idea if the end was near, until one day a United Nations representative dropped the bombshell that the family would be relocated to Australia.
"I just thought they would be moving us to somewhere else, I had never even heard of Australia," said Sadiki.
Arriving in Sydney on September 19, 2006, the then 10-year-old's life was instantly turned upside down.
Not even knowing a hint of English (French is the second language in Congo), Sadiki found himself trying to pick up the native tongue from people who "talk way too fast".
Eventually he met somebody who speaks English as a second language and he rapidly became fluent in English.
"I was so surprised by the buildings and everything, I was just walking around everywhere with my mouth open," he said.
"I felt really happy as soon as I was in Australia. In Africa when you are walking around there are gangs and armies walking around and little kids carrying guns.
"In Africa you walk around cautious of every single person you meet, but here you can just let yourself go, it's really good. Here, you can walk around and expect nothing to happen to you. "
Having moved to Ballarat with his family two years ago from their former home of Wollongong, Sadiki has not only slotted into Ballarat society, he has blossomed.
Just last week he was announced as City of Ballarat Youth of the Year for citizens aged 12-17, a far cry from the 10-year-old who had not even heard of Australia.
Sadiki at Phoenix P-12 Community College. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE
The Phoenix P-12 Community College Year 11 student has felt compelled to immerse himself into community life, volunteering many of his hours to helping other youth in Ballarat.
Shiree Pilkinton, multicultural youth worker at Ballarat's Centre for Multicultural Youth, first came across the Musaka family when they moved to Ballarat two years ago.
"From the first time I met Sadiki and his family, they were instantly inspiring," she said.
"Their positivity and outlook on life is just amazing. Often refugees are the most courageous and skilled people you can come across.
"I've seen quite a lot of change in Ballarat in the last seven years in terms of multiculturalism, which has all been for the good."
Now, Sadiki has not only become a treasured member of the Ballarat society, he is destined to next year complete his year 12 VCE.
With hopes of becoming a builder after school, he is set on also continuing to help others who come to Australia in similar situations he found himself in, as well spreading the acceptance of multiculturalism in Ballarat.
"I always thought it would be good idea to talk to people who have been in a similar spot," he said.
"Wollongong was a really multicultural place, there were so many different sorts of people, I'd like to see Ballarat change to become more of a multicultural place."
He's just 17 and Sadiki Musaka has already been through more than many other Ballarat people will experience in their lives.
But in many ways he has achieved more than his 17 years would suggest.
He one day hopes to return to Congo as a visitor, but he will always call Australia home.
"I call myself Australian, definitely."