Basima Zahrah’s life has undergone huge change since she was forced to leave her native country of Iraq in 2015. She escaped alone to Jordan with her four young children, three of whom live with disability.
Since arriving in Australia in August last year, Ms Zahrah and her family have developed a supportive network of neighbours and friends. Her children have received places at schools that accommodate their respective abilities. Ms Zahrah will this month put her newfound free time to use studying English at NAVITAS.
Ms Zahrah has also joined a women’s group co-run by SSI and CORE Multicultural Communities that brings together more than two dozen women from refugee backgrounds each Friday for structured education sessions covering new topics each term.
For the past eight weeks, the women’s group has run the ‘Love Your Heart’ exercise and education program to teach heart-healthy habits, facilitated by NSW Refugee Health.
“I’m already physically active with what I do to look after my children each day, but I’ve really enjoyed making connections," Ms Zahrah said. "It’s a good way to socialise and meet other women.
“Here, people ask about me and my children, and they want to support us. There is freedom for me to speak and voice my opinions.”
That support and friendship is like night and day compared with Ms Zahrah’s experience in her native country.
“To begin with, our life was a standard village life, but we began to experience persecution. Life became hard,” she said.
Fearing for the safety of herself and her children, Ms Zahrah fled to another area of Iraq, where the Mandean community helped her to apply for refugee status and ultimately escape to Jordan.
The family of five last year arrived in Australia, where SSI’s Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided a spectrum of support services to help the new arrivals settle in Australia.
HSS staff members also referred Ms Zahrah to the women’s group, which is one of the ways SSI and its member Migrant Resource Centres such as CORE introduce new arrivals to the support available to them once they exit the HSS program.
Since the women’s group was founded two years ago, a core group of women have attended each week. Many of the women in the group are supported by the NSW Settlement Partnership, a consortium of community organisations, led by SSI, that delivers settlement support for humanitarian entrants and other eligible migrants in their first five years of life in Australia. Ms Zahrah is one of the newer members of the group but has already forged many new friendships and plans to continue attending.
“We weren’t given many chances in Iraq, but we’re hoping for the best from life here in Sydney,” she said.
“My main focus is on my children, but if there is an opportunity to work in future when my English improves, I’d like to take it.”
Coming to Australia has also opened up opportunities for Ms Zahrah’s children Bassam, 15, Juman, 12, and Marma, three, who all live with different types of disability.
“There are organisations out there like SSI and the government who want to help look after my children and give them what they need,” she said.
"I hope to see them grow and continue studying here.”