According to Ashod Paloulian, life is like a tennis match: you have to fight for every point and, if you lose one, you just have to try again. Both this analogy and this attitude toward life describe well this 33-year-old Syrian father of two who, only nine months after landing in Australia as a refugee, is already working as a tennis coach with the support of Ignite Small Business Start-ups.
Back in his hometown of Aleppo, Mr Paloulian had worked very hard from a young age to become a professional tennis player. Eventually he achieved his dream, but soon the war broke out and normal life in Syria, including sports competitions, was put on hold.
After six years away from the tennis court and with their country becoming increasingly unsafe, Mr Paloulian and his family were granted a humanitarian visa and moved to Australia.
“I started to look for a job as a tennis coach as soon as I arrived,” Mr Paloulian said. “They told me I had to get my qualifications recognised here, but I didn’t know where to start. Then my case manager at SSI told me about the Ignite program.”
Ignite Small Business Start-Ups is an SSI initiative that provides support for people of refugee and asylum seeker background who are interested in creating their own business, or expanding an existing one.
Ignite enterprise facilitators have a vast knowledge of the Australian business environment and can support entrepreneurs in matters such as networking, financial planning and marketing strategy.
“The first meeting with Ben, my Ignite facilitator, went great. He told me that I had to do a course to get a Community Coach Certificate and helped me enrol into one due to start soon in Canberra,” Mr Paloulian said.
With the support of his Ignite facilitator, Mr Paloulian was connected with Tennis Australia, where professionals in the industry saw the potential of the Syrian player.
“Through Tennis Australia I got a volunteering position teaching tennis at a primary school in Campbelltown,” Mr Paloulian said. “I really enjoyed it.”
One day, he was asked to replace one of the instructors who had called in sick and was soon hired by the school to coach children two days a week.
Despite getting a job and aspiring to return to professional tennis, Mr Paloulian hasn’t stopped his volunteering because he sees it as a way to give back to the community that has supported him and his family in settling in their new country.
“Australia has saved my life and the life of my family, so I am very grateful and ready to start a new life here.
“As a refugee, I think there is something broken inside all those who had to leave their homeland to seek refuge. It’s not easy. But I think that a way to overcome the sadness is to give something back to the country that’s welcomed you.”
Mr Paloulian said he would like to use his experience as tennis player and his language skills in Arabic to coach children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those who have also arrived as refugees.