Our whole family was thrown out of Iraq by Saddam Hussein because of my father’s political activism, so I grew up in Iran. But we never felt like we belonged there, and we weren’t given Iranian citizenship, which meant we didn’t have many rights. So,10 years later, my parents decided to go to Syria to apply to the UN for refugee status, so that we children could have an identity and a good education. Three years later, we were accepted to resettle in Australia.
We had thought we were going to be the only Iraqi family in Adelaide, but to our surprise we were met at the airport by an Iraqi man. Having someone who spoke our language, had the same religion, and understood our culture was a huge weight off our shoulders. And luckily, that night, there was a big religious event happening, so he took us to the mosque, and we met the whole Iraqi community on our first day!
Then we went to our temporary accommodation. One particular thing that really caught my eye was a shoebox of goodies left by a church organisation, and on the lid there was a beautiful picture by a little girl, with a picture of a house and a sun and a family, saying, ‘Welcome ’. And that literally, as a 13 year old, brought tears to my eyes.
As a result of our amazing welcome, we kids were really eager to hit the ground running. We wanted to be a part of this Australian culture and to give back to the community that had welcomed us. I went to English school for three terms and then started year 10 at Underdale high school, where I became very involved in extra curricular activities. I used to put my hand up for everything. I was the SRC president, and I got involved with the National Youth Science program. I also volunteered with Multicultural Youth SA (MYSA), and did a lot of leadership programs. The other students thought I was the biggest geek, and I probably was, but I understood the value of those programs because where I came from, you wouldn’t have those opportunities.
I went on to get a degree in Software Engineering, and I then worked in that industry for about 3 and a half years. But while I was doing that, a guy called Brad Chilcott was starting up this small thing called Welcome to Australia.
In 2011, the Inverbrackie detention centre was opening up in the Adelaide Hills, and the residents there weren’t happy about it because they thought it would bring down their property value. As a result, people were protesting, and there was a photo of an 8 year old girl holding a sign saying, ‘Sink the boats’. And that made Brad think, ‘What makes it OK for a parent in our society to give that sign to a kid?’. He wanted to change that narrative, so he started organising welcoming parties, in schools and in offices, and I started to help by sharing my story. Then, over time, I got increasingly more involved. After four years, we realised that we really needed a full time staff member, and we quickly raised enough through fundraising.
Then, Brad asked me to be the CEO. At first, I refused. I said, ‘No, you want to go out there and find someone who knows what they’re doing.’ But he insisted, so finally I said, ‘Alright fine, I’ll quit my job then!’
That was 6 months ago. Since then, I’ve been slowly trying to transition us from being a movement to an organisation. Things have been going very well, and a lot of amazing opportunities have come my way. We now have 4 staff members, a welcome centre, a furniture donation program, community dinners, and heaps of volunteers.
I believe it’s the first perceptions that really matter. No matter how many people say, ‘Go back to where you came from’, that really doesn’t define who Australians are to me because of that initial welcoming experience that we had.
Currently, we’re working on a campaign called Small Acts of Kindness, where kids draw pictures for newly arrived families. We’re going to make a book of those pictures, and distribute it to every family that arrives.
It was a shoebox back in the day, but now it’s a whole book!
#migrants #migration #refugees #Australia #Iraq #Iran #Adelaide
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Love this, and I hope that some of your determination and values rub off on the current generation, so they can teach their parents what it truly means to be Australian today. Best of luck.
Thank you for sharing Mohammed. I hope Brad and your ‘Welcome to Australia’ keeps on spreading through the community.
I bet the Mums 4 Refugees’ kids would love to draw some pictures for you 🙂
Love your story! I can’t imagine what it’s like for a family to have to leave their home country and find another. Amazing.
This is such a great story and it’s true about how welcoming ‘real’ old school, Australians are. If I was welcoming new arrivals I would encourage them to block the ‘go back blah blah blah’ out. Those people don’t contribute to their own community anyway! Well done. Keep up the great work!
Welcome Mohammad! Your story made me smile and highlights the invaluable contribution that ‘new’ Australians make when they arrive and settle here.
The welcome that you received is the welcome that all refugees deserve and I love that you are bringing that to them.
Thank you for all your wonderful work helping create the kind of welcomes I want all refugees to experience when they arrive in Australia. Your experience and the way you are passing it forward heartens and inspires me.
I love your stories by why do you only do stories on new humans of Australia? Are the rest of us so un- newsworthy?
What you are doing is incredibly important. It only takes one person’s story to change the attitude of a community. Australians ARE kind, but some are afraid and don’t know how to interact with someone from a different walk of life. The media and govt policies are really capitalising on the fear factor, which makes matters worse. I have an 85 year old neighbour of British/Australian background who saw that many of her old neighbours had passed or gone into homes, so she organised a meet and greet with the very multicultural set of new neighbours. They’ve since become a tight nit group and they all support her when she needs it. It’s beautiful.
You + Brad + Kathryn plus everyone else at WTA & The Welcome Centre are the embodiment of what it means to be a true blue Aussie. Keep up the good work!
With folk like yourself and your Family Mohammed, Australia Wins.
Keep up the Great work mate and a Much belated Welcome. Hopefully in the not too distant future All Australians will unite as one and assist those that simply have Need irrespective of where folk come from.
What a great Australian you are Mohammed. I hope that through your organisation more ‘future Australians’ can feel welcome and accepted when settling into their new communities. All the best to you ????
Love that story, Mo. Cheers for sharing! Hope The Project or someone gets behind this some more.
The other kids didn’t just think you were a geek Mohammed – they respected you and wished they had the courage and confidence you had!
Great story Mohammed and I say welcome too! You sound like exactly the kind of motivated person who will make this country a better place 🙂 (I’m glad you got the right kind of welcome initially, especially as a kid)
Bravo Mo and how lucky is Australia to have you and your family here!! Power to you and all you do to give back to the community!
This is a warm and positive narrative and one that all who are so alarmed simply by the word “refugee” should read. Including politicians. Pity is they won’t – or can’t.
Pass the tissues … I have worked with refugees in health care and am in awe of all that you have endured …. Congratulations , you deserve your success and happiness.
Thank you, Mohammed for your courage and generosity of spirit in paying it forward. You are now an ambassador for the very best we can all be. Bravo!
Amazing – love your work!
Modern Australia is built on a proud multicultural tradition of hard work, acceptance and humanity.
Heartwarming story. Made my day. 🙂 These days I am sometimes ashamed of my countries record of treatment and attitude toward those who need our assistance. This story made me proud to be Australian and so very grateful to the contributions that you and people like you are making.
‘…I understood the value of those programs…’ This is why we need you and more like you, we need to hear your stories to remind us of how lucky we truly are. Thank you for your continued contribution to your new home.
Hi Nicola, I love what you’re doing. This is so important. I hope you don’t mind, I’ve written a short blog about this story and encouraged readers to support your movement. All the best with it. x https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/australia-its-time-take-responsibility-how-we-teaching-thiele?trk=prof-post
Mohammed you have my deepest respect. Thank you for working to bring about positive change for refugees and hopefully a change of attitude for some of those in our community who ‘hate’.
I love the concept of this page. And the stories are truly inspiring and needed during these times.
It makes me sad my parents migrated 45 years ago from South America. And the hardships they faced are unfortunately still happening to migrants and refugees today. It makes me so mad that as a society we still have not learnt from the past. When they came my mum was 15 years old dropped out of school to go and work because the bullying was so bad. She would be spat on, kicked, verbally abused and I cannot believe this day in age the ignorance is still here they just have new targets.
Thank-you for giving people a voice to tell there story.