Rural Australians for Refugees Ararat and Stawell on how the Grampians region can help | Opinion

On the AFL grand final weekend last year Rural Australians for Refugees (Ararat/Stawell) organised a camp for nine teenage boys aged 15 to 19 at Borough Huts in the Grampians.

The boys all originated from Somalia (North East Africa) but now live in Heidelberg West (The old Olympic Village).

Their leader Social Worker Abdi (full name Abdi Aziz Farah) has an incredible story to tell of his life as a refugee.

Abdi was born in Somalia. The Civil War started when he was 12 years old. His father and two brothers were killed.

His mother, Abdi and four siblings fled to Kenya and lived in a refugee camp for 8 years. There were 250,000 people in the camp. Abdi at the age of 14 became the family bread winner and worked as a labourer.

Life was a desperate struggle. Fortunately, he had an older brother who had been granted a visa to live in Australia.

The older brother sponsored Abdi his mother and 4 siblings and they all came to Australia.

Australia was a shock because of all the pictures on TV showed Australia like Hollywood with swimming pools.

The family were housed in a high rise block in Carlton with graffiti. He studied English for six months and got work as a labourer. After hours he worked as a volunteer organising community events.

This is where he met Steve Maude, welfare worker and current president of Rural Australians for Refugees Ararat and Stawell.

A captain from the Salvation Army urged him to undertake training as a social worker so that he got paid for the work he did as a volunteer.

Abdi attended an Open Day at RMIT University. After the presentation he went up to Dr Jennifer Martin and said ‘I only have a high school education; what training do I need to undertake?’.

She said, ‘I believe you have the ability now. Write me two pages on why you want to do social work and I will tell you if you are ready’.

Abdi wrote the two pages, submitted them and she said ‘You are ready for university study’. She had faith in Abdi and this built his confidence.

He successfully completed his studies and now works as a social worker, managing a team of 10 people with enormous demands on his time.

He tries to facilitate people’s needs with applications, financial issues and dealing with a traumatic life. Above all he wants to facilitate integration into the broader community.

When the Somali boys came to the Grampians most had never had a conversation with ordinary Australians. They just loved camping and hiking.

Abdi works desperately hard to improve young people’s English and do everything to encourage boys to continue to complete High School.

With all Abdi’s experiences, no one is better suited to help people who are refugees from Somalia.

Though Abdi is only 40 years, he has fitted so much into his life. He is married with four children aged 10 to three years old. His mother is alive and is now 79. He has two older brothers who migrated to North America.

Rural Australians for Refugees encourages Australians and our government to give greater assistance for people in desperate need.

Frank Kitchen is a member of Grampians Rural Australians for Refugees.