When America invaded Iraq, life became very tough. Suddenly, everything was closed, and there was no more school for me. Every night, we ran to the basement of a hotel opposite our house, for safety. It was pretty scary. I still remember hearing the rockets nearby and feeling the building shaking.
My family and I had already faced discrimination for being Christian, but now it also became dangerous. Six churches were burnt and two priests were killed. I saw my neighbour shot dead. Then they left a bullet in an envelope in front of my father’s shop. That was the sign for us to leave everything to flee to Jordan. At that time, I was 13.
My dad was a very wealthy businessman, but we left in such a hurry that he couldn’t sell his assets. So overnight, we went from living in a mansion to owning nothing but our clothes. This was hard for all of us, but I think it was especially hard for my father.
We struggled a lot in Jordan. My parents couldn’t afford to send my siblings and I to school, and we just waited to see if we would be able to resettle in another country. But then after a year, we found out the good news that our relatives in Sydney were able to sponsor us to come here. I remember feeling very excited, and that for the first time in a long time, I could see my future.
Still, when we first arrived, it took me some time to settle. Everything seemed new and strange. We were still very poor. And I couldn’t speak the language, so I had to go to an Intensive English Centre for a year before I was able to start school at Fairfield High.
Then, one day, I went to volunteer at a local tree planting event because I thought it would be a good way to practice my English. Although I was the youngest volunteer there, I really enjoyed myself, and that experience started me on a lifelong volunteering journey.
I went on to do a Bachelor of International Studies, followed by a Master of Arts in TESOL. But even though I was busy studying and working to support myself, I still found the time to volunteer because I wanted to give back to the country that had saved me and my family.
Because I missed my grandparents, I began to visit the elderly in nursing homes, where I formed some strong relationships. I also became a coordinator for the Salvation Army Red Shield appeal, the secretary of my local Lions Club, and a member of the Fairfield Youth Advisory Committee.
As a result of my work, in 2012, I was given an Australia Day medallion, and in 2014, I was awarded Young Citizen of the Year and became the youngest person to receive a Community Service award from the Parliament of New South Wales.
After I finished my Masters, I taught English to refugees and migrants with Navitas for two and a half years. Next, I moved into project and community engagement work, where I became responsible for running short courses and workshops for specific migrant groups, including women and the handicapped.
I loved my community work. It was never just 9 to 5 for me. For example, I did JP services after work, helped with form-filling on the weekends, and offered interpreting services for the wave of newly arrived Syrian refugees. As a result, I was recently awarded the New South Wales Highly Commended Humanitarian Award under the refugee support worker category, which I’m very proud of.
Now, I’ve just been promoted to a Stakeholder Engagement Manager position with Navitas.
If there are any young refugees or migrants reading my story, I want to say: I was like you. When I arrived here, I didn’t even know the English alphabet, and I would have never imagined that I would one day be a manager at a company like Navitas.
But anything is possible. If you work hard, you will learn the language, and you will find a good job. If I can succeed, you can too!
This story was brought to you by Navitas Skilled Futures. Since 1998, NSF has supported over 300,000 people to live their best lives in Australia, through the delivery of the Adult Migrant English Program and other programs. To find out more, enrol, or recommend to a friend, visit https://bit.ly/3hA0MlF
Photographer: Anne Casey www.facebook.com/silverpepperphotography
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