Khaledah Alrubaie is a highly skilled engineer with two university degrees and a masters. She also happens to be a refugee.
A voracious learner, Ms Alrubaie has completed several qualifications since arriving in Australia, volunteers regularly, and recently secured paid employment in before and after school care.
But even skilled refugees like Ms Alrubaie face barriers when attempting to enter the Australian workplace, including a lack of recognition of qualifications and little knowledge of the local labour market.
Ms Alrubaie received help in the form of a job readiness program established by Settlement Services International’s (SSI) Women at Risk program, generously funded by Jack and Sally Curtis, which was created to educate vulnerable refugee women about local employment practices, and their rights and responsibilities in the workplace.
Among other things, the program covers resume writing, job interviewing and presentation skills, English language support, cultural preparation, acceptable workplace conduct, and employers’ expectations about behaviours such as punctuality.
“For me, it’s all new – how to deal with taxation, what expenses you should take out, what you shouldn’t, what your rights are, what’s something you can complain about. I got a lot of information about this,” she said.
Like many people from her birth country of Iraq, ongoing unrest forced Ms Alrubaie and her two children to seek asylum in Australia in 2012. The family’s refugee status was confirmed on Valentine’s Day 2013.
For Ms Alrubaie, the process of beginning life again in a new country has inspired her to pursue a new career and she hopes eventually to secure a job in the social work profession.
“I always tell other women, don’t give up,” Ms Alrubaie said. “In the first year, all refugees experience the same feelings: in the first month, we are very happy because we are safe and we are here in Australia. After that, we notice everything is complex, everything is difficult, so we get upset and depressed.”
“It’s not easy for someone to start again in a new country. But at least we are safe and we have the chance to do everything we want here. We need to maintain our hope and work with it.”
While her career path is new, Ms Alrubaie’s passion for social responsibility dates back to Iraq, where her own experience as a single mother inspired her to purchase a large home and sub-divide it into rent-free units.
“I started this with two families – two women who lost their husbands in the war. One of them had two children and the other had four. They had nowhere else to go,” she said.
The women were still without income, however, so Ms Alrubaie turned the front of the house into a shopping strip where each family were able to sell their wares.
“I’m happy this house continues today as these families now have their own home, so no-one is asking for rent, and they have work. I love them. This is the most successful part of my life,” she said. “We’re like one big family.”
This venture is more than just philanthropic: Ms Alrubaie attributes it to her own survival during life threatening situations in Iraq and during her perilous journey to Australia.
“I know that when you help someone, God will help you,” she said. “My dream is also to do something special here.”
Ms Alrubaie hopes to one day become an Australian citizen and be united with her husband, who is still living in Iraq.
“My children are living without a father, which is hard sometimes, but I hope that he will join us here when I am a citizen,” she said.