Just over a year ago, Abera Tadesse was a refugee. Newly arrived in Australia, he was unsure of what lay ahead but knew he wanted to make the most of educational and employment opportunities and create a better life for his family.
Originally from Ethiopia, Mr Tadesse was forced to leave his home country in 2011 and, for the next four years, he lived as a refugee in Egypt, where he met and married his wife, Weynshet.
According to Mr Tadesse, one of the challenges of living in Egypt as a refugee was a lack of access to education – an absence he has quickly made up for since he and his family came to Australia in December 2015.
"The opportunity to gain education and make yourself better through education is really, really great in Australia," he said. "Whatever potential you have and whatever else you’re trying to achieve, there are a lot of ways that you can have a better life here."
On arrival in Australia, Mr Tadesse and his family were supported by SSI’s Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) program, which provides initial settlement support to families and individuals who have been granted a permanent visa under Australia’s humanitarian program.
SSI’s HSS program enhances self-reliance with a focus on English language skills, education and job readiness. For Mr Tadesse, this support meant he was soon enrolled in a course that set him up to find a job within six months of coming to Australia.
"I have a family," he said. "I can’t be dependent on Centrelink so I had to have a job as soon as possible. I chose to do a course in forklift driving because there are a lot of jobs."
Five days after finishing the course, Mr Tadesse had secured casual work as a forklift driver and warehouse assistant. Within a month, he was offered permanent employment. Within three, he was a warehouse supervisor.
Mr Tadesse has gone on to acquire additional certificates in warehousing and forklift management, adding to a robust educational CV that already included a bachelor’s degree in economics from a university in Ethiopia, along with college-level qualifications in physics and mathematics.
"My current job isn’t my profession. I started driving a forklift in Australia – for the first time – but now I am an expert on forklifts," he said.
"When we were in Egypt, I was a cleaner, I was a housekeeper. Here, I’m now a supervisor. You have to accept the system in that place you are in.
"My degree helps me to live my life and look after myself and my family in a better way. If I didn’t have that education or that opportunity, I may not have the chance to be who I am now."
And Mr Tadesse’s educational ambition is far from satiated. Next month, he will sit a language exam with the aim of gaining entry to an engineering degree at university.
"If I get a chance to be an engineer, like construction engineering, I will have a better life in future," he said.