SSI’s Romal Baluchzada is looking forward to another year supporting and advocating for refugees and people seeking asylum, after last year receiving one of the not-for-profit sector’s top accolades for his work in this area.
Mr Baluchzada took out the top spot on Pro Bono Australia’s 2016 Impact 25 – a list of the most influential figures in the social sector as decided by more than 18,500 votes.
"It was quite surprising for me that I made the list and it really gave me a lot of energy to focus and give more to the community," he said. "Seeing the people that have been on the list in previous years, they’re all so influential. For example, our CEO Violet Roumeliotis, Rosie Batty, Tim Costello, Penny Wong – they’re all such great and well-known people."
Mr Baluchzada works as a team leader in SSI’s Humanitarian Support Services program and is in the process of completing his masters in human services. It was his experience of coming to Australia as a new migrant that inspired him to achieve everything he has.
In Afghanistan Mr Baluchzada was a qualified engineer but upon migrating to Australia in August 2010 to join his wife, Khadija, he discovered that no employers recognised his overseas qualifications and experience.
"I got a job as a traffic controller, and on my first day, I worked a 12-hour shift," he said. "I was standing the whole time, I didn’t get breaks and wasn’t able to stop to eat properly, so it was exhausting. When I went home that night, I was disappointed. Back home, I was well established and recognised.
"On that night, I said to myself, 'Romal, you can do it – you can prove yourself, you can build yourself again, and you will contribute in positive changes in Australian society'. That’s why I decided to move forward. I started researching more about my passion for human rights, and I found that Australia is a country full of opportunities.
"I decided to change my career because I wanted to put aside resolving mathematical issues and come to resolving social issues.
"Fortunately, I found SSI. I applied and began working as a bilingual guide in 2011. SSI has given me the opportunity and recognised my strengths, experience and abilities."
Mr Baluchzada was soon promoted to a case manager and then a team leader. At the same time, he completed a diploma in community services, then one in case management, before moving on to university, where he acquired a degree in human services and began his masters.
"I’m inspired by all the frustration and the challenges I faced coming here," he said. "I don’t want other people who come to Australia with qualifications to give up. They shouldn’t just rely on labouring and government benefits. I want to inspire and encourage those people, and to share my experience."
Not content with devoting his professional life to supporting vulnerable communities, Mr Baluchzada also began a radio show on 2SER where he discussed human rights and ways to engage the community in discussions about them.
"For refugees and migrants, I really want to inspire them, I really want to give them energy and show that Australia is a country full of opportunities but it depends on how individuals use those opportunity," he said.
"SSI is a wonderful organisation that creates a lot of opportunities for everyone. I would like to thank my CEO, my program manager, and my coordinators, because they are the ones that really supported me in every step. They guided me. I also want to convey my appreciation to all HSS team members. They are doing an amazing job.
"I believe that this award that has been given to me belongs to all my colleagues and all my friends. I don’t want to accept this as an individual achievement because I didn’t get the achievement by myself. It was all as a team, all my organisation, all my friends and my family."