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Ahmadi inspires refugees at Afghan Youth Forum

by Rosanna Galvin

Aref Ahmadi (far right) with fellow panellists at the Afghan Youth ForumHis own experience as an Afghan refugee in Australia has inspired UniSA student Aref Ahmadi (pictured far right), to get involved in Adelaide’s refugee and migrant communities, most recently participating in the Afghan Youth Forum on Active Citizenship at the Hawke Centre.

The inaugural event, supported by UniSA’s International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding and UnitingCare Wesley Port Adelaide Inc, was an opportunity for young Afghan people in South Australia to collectively identify the challenges young Afghan people face and workshop potential solutions.

A Bachelor of Commerce student, Ahmadi was invited to be a panellist on the day, representing the government sector due to his work as a youth support worker at Multicultural SA.

He said Afghan refugees face many challenges when they arrive in Australia and the forum was a chance to share experiences and find a way to break down barriers when settling into Australia.

“Most Afghan youth experience a huge culture shock when they arrive in Australia. The language barrier is very difficult,” Ahmadi said.

“At the forum, we discussed one of the challenges most of us face, which is connecting with Australians and becoming part of the Australian community. A recurring suggestion was to create shared activities, such as a sport, where young Afghan people are able to mix with the wider community.

“What helped me feel settled in Australia was playing a sport. I started to play tennis at my local club (Grange Lawn Tennis Club) and felt welcome straight away. I had never played tennis before but everyone was happy to introduce themselves and embrace me.”

Ahmadi is now a coach at Grange Lawn Tennis Club’s Advantage Refugees Program, which uses tennis as a way to engage with young refugees in the community. While Ahmadi was the club’s first refugee player, the program, which won a Recreation and Sport Industry Award for Building Communities in 2010, now has refugee participants from all over the world.

The Advantage Refugees Program is just one of many community initiatives Ahmadi has been active in since his arrival to Australia from Afghanistan in 2005. The third year student, who will participate in a Global Experience student exchange to Germany later his year, is a U-Buddy at UniSA, assisting students with their enrolments. He is also involved in the Association of Australian Tertiary Students from Afghanistan, and recently lodged an application to begin a UniSA Afghan Student Network to engage with the approximately 85 Afghan students on UniSA campuses.

Ahmadi said he was motivated to give back to the community after his own positive experiences with community programs when he first arrived in Australia as a refugee.

“I came to Australia as a refugee in 2005. At first I struggled with the culture and did not feel like I belonged here,” he said.

“But I have found Australians to be very welcoming and interested in getting to know Afghan people. I have been here seven years now and really feel like I belong to the Australian community. Now it is my turn to give back.

“When I talk to newly arrived refugees and migrants, I encourage them to take every opportunity that’s available to them. It is important to be open-minded and to not judge things as wrong or right, just look at them as different.”

As a panellist at the Afghan Youth Forum last month, Ahmadi addressed approximately 160 attendees, including 130 young Afghan people from local high schools, His Excellency Lieutenant Governor Hieu Van Le, government officials and community representatives.

Several academics from the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding also attended the event, including Director of the Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, Prof Salman Sayyid and Dr Nahid Kabir who spoke to the audience about the history of Afghan people in Australia.

To find out about future events at the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, click here.

Understanding wins the prize

The award will generate conversations between people of faith and non-faith. Nominations are now open for Australia’s first Award for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, developed in conjunction with the Australia Day Council.

The award is open to people of any or no religious affiliation and will be presented to a person or organisation that has made an outstanding contribution to furthering understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim people.

The aim of the award is to recognise good practice, but also help generate conversations between people of faith and non-faith. The award is a part of one of the key priorities of the Centre: to be an agent for change for better understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Nominations for the awards are open until August 31. The nomination forms are available online.

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