Former Afghan refugee advocates for multiculturalism
Arriving in Australia in 2009 as an Afghan refugee, Shadab Safa is using his experiences of escaping racial hatred and civil war to advocate for a multicultural Australia.
Recognising the importance of mutual understanding between different cultures in his local community, Shadab applied to become a Youth Advisor for the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY). Over the past two years, Shadab has raised awareness of the issues facing young refugees and migrants, contributing to CMY’s awareness campaigns and a roundtable with the Minister for Multicultural Affairs.
At Cranbourne Secondary College Shadab has promoted a culture of tolerance. Acknowledging that there was a lack of celebration of Middle Eastern cultures at the school, Shadab initiated and organised an Eid Festival in 2016. Eid is an Islamic religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide. The success of the Festival saw it continue this year and Shadab hopes it will set a precedent for celebrations of cultural diversity at his school.
Shadab also volunteers for Red Cross, making Persian podcasts for newly arrived Afghan and Iranian refugees. Over the past two years Shadab has also been working for the not-for-profit organisation, the Noor Foundation, and was elected a Central Committee Member earlier in 2017. The Noor Foundation works nationally to integrate newly arrived migrants and refugees and internationally the foundation promotes education in rural areas of Afghanistan. Through his involvement with the Noor Foundation Shadab wishes to promote education in Middle Eastern nations because he strongly believes that education can help fight and improve the quality of life in conflict-infested regions.
Shadab was recognised by the Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN) for his commitment to making a change, receiving a scholarship to their research program. He was also invited to be a panellist in ABCN’s state-wide symposium to discuss how schools and businesses can collaborate to benefit the community.
The VCAA caught up with Shadab to learn more about his accomplishments.
Tell us about one of the events you organised as part of the CMY’s awareness campaigns.
I was one of the key organisers and planners of CMY’s Youth Advisory Group’s 2017 National Youth Week Event ‘Journey to Self’. The National Youth Week is a week-long celebration of young people and it gives us a platform to express our ideas and views and act on issues that are important to us. ‘Journey to Self’ is an interactive art show that showcases the talents and creativity of young Victorians from diverse multicultural communities. Through art, poetry, music and dance the exhibitors from migrant and refugee backgrounds illustrate their own intimate journeys.
At the event, I tried to inspire others through exhibiting my artwork showing my journey. I also worked really hard on promoting the event to young local artists in the Casey Community.
How did you plan the Eid Festival and why was it successful?
We are a group of three students who are leading the initiative called Multipride at our school. The goal of this group is to shape the school’s culture to make sure that all students at our school, no matter where they are from, feel included and recognised.
The Festival was almost entirely student organised by myself and my fellow two Multipride leaders. It took us two months to plan and prepare the festival. We arranged musicians and dancers, and invited external guests to the festival. Miss Australia was there to speak about being the first Miss Australia with an Asian background. It was a night festival, which meant that our parents were also able to attend. We wanted to affect their generation as well and I believe we were successful because we received positive feedback and were encouraged to run the event again this year.
What work do you undertake for the Noor Foundation?
The Foundation does a lot of work for newly arrived immigrants and refugees here in Victoria. The Noor Foundation in Victoria is made up of university and senior secondary students. It is founded by the members and we pay $10 per month to keep it funded. One of my responsibilities is to help refugees get settled. I might help them with their Centrelink applications, doctor appointments, obtaining work certificates or other paperwork that can be difficult for people who do not speak English well. We provide these services for free.
When I first arrived in Australia in 2009 I did not speak English and I had to learn the language on top of the three other languages I already spoke (Dari, Urdu and Hindi). I began in a regular school in Grade 4 and it was very difficult for me because I did not understand anything. My ESL teacher was very helpful. He took me out of class to go over the grammar and spelling. Now it is my time to give back to newly arrived people and help them get settled here.
What are your plans for the future?
My goal is to become a cultural entrepreneur. I want to develop a business paradigm that puts culture at the centre of enterprise development and growth. Eventually, I want to scale this paradigm to a global level and work to combat radical extremism in Middle Eastern regions experiencing conflict. This, I believe, can be achieved through educating the young generations.
My short-term plan is to work on exposing Eastern consumers to a Western market through an international platform and thus bridge the gap between Eastern and Western cultures. I am driven to bring my ideas to fruition, working to foster understanding between different people because I believe that it is lack of understanding that leads to conflicts.