My name is Hameed Cina. My life in Australia today is the life of a normal citizen, ordinary by any standard. I’m married, I have two young daughters and I have a good job that I love. I also volunteer a lot of my free time for my community. But the way in which I arrived at this point in my life was definitely not ordinary.
Until the age of 13, I lived a wonderful life in a remote village in Afghanistan – a son of a local Hazara elder. We lived a simple life as farmers, herding our animals and living off the land. We had no political or religious associations.
Education changed Hameed's life.
At the time, the Taliban was becoming more powerful throughout Afghanistan and ethnic groups like mine were targeted for offering potential opposition. One day, out of the blue, my life and that of my entire family was turned upside down and changed for ever.
My 17-year-old brother was kidnapped and later murdered. His body dumped outside our house – found by my mother who was on her own at the time. The religious extremists who killed my brother had left word with our neighbours that they were looking for me; that I was next.
My parents found the only way they could to save my life. It was arranged that I would come to Australia to seek asylum. I had never heard of this place – no one I knew had either but we were told it was very far away from the people who wanted to kill me.
Secretly, I travelled from my village with my father to Pakistan from where I flew to Indonesia. I waited for two months in a room on my own until someone came and told me I would be going on a boat to Australia. I had turned 14 by then.
I was put in detention for 42 days – only a short stay – before being flown to Brisbane and then Sydney, where I found out a friend of my father’s was living.
My very first experience of going to school anywhere was Year 9 at Holroyd High School. I still regard the principal of the school, Mrs Dorothy Hoddenott as my second mother – she was so good to me. In Year 10, I joined the Student Representative Council and in Year 11 I was voted School Captain. Two big achievements for me.
After finishing Year 12, I could have accepted a university scholarship but I decided to do a Community Services Certificate at TAFE part-time so I could help my community full time.
My friends and I started a Hazara youth association, the Australian Afghan Hassanian Youth Association, based at Auburn Community Centre, to help all young Afghans settle in Australia.
We also help them to learn to read and write their own language - Hazaraghi– something I can’t do to this day because I never went to school in Afghanistan due to the conflict.
Today we have 300 students at our Saturday school. We have helped dozens of young people into apprenticeships, the police force and the Australian army. We also support women to get their drivers licences which they couldn’t do in Afghanistan.
We have a Kung Fu Club and a girls-only Karate Club to improve fitness, focus and confidence in our girls, who have been through so much in their home country.
We also now have a space where older Hazaras can meet and socialize after we realised that social isolation was a problem for our community. My own mother and father, who have since moved from Pakistan to Australia, have now started English classes.
Today, we are very far away from Afghanistan, my family and I have settled into Australia; we’re very happy and we feel safe.
Hopefully, for my daughters, there will be no fear or running away in the night. Instead, they will go to school and live in a peaceful, welcoming country.