The More You Know – Talking with leaders

scarf refugee week evening wollongong bear hunt photography

For those that were at the Refugee Week evening at the Wollongong Town Hall on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, you will be familiar with some of these faces – Elie, Des & Celeste from the Let’s Lead program.

Let’s Lead is a youth leadership program run in partnership with Cameron Brown from Explore Discover Act and aimed at individuals from a range of backgrounds and experiences. The program is intended to develop an ability to lead in daily thoughts, words, and actions through monthly workshops. There is a focus on both individual and collective leadership in exploring possibilities, discovering potential and acting authentically. Celeste, Desire, Elie, and Zeinab are some of the regular participants.

A few weeks before the Refugee Week evening we had met with these individuals for a conversation for The More You Know series. Here is some of the information, knowledge and wisdom they shared with us at that time that gave us more insight into who they are.

DESIRE: My name is Des… I was born in Congo. I came to Australia in 2010, so basically I’ve been living in Australia for 8 years now. I attend Wollongong University. I’m currently doing a Bachelor of Social Work, in my third year.

I like watching football, soccer, and go out with friends on the weekend. I currently live with my mother and my two younger brothers.

I got involved in SCARF through Sherryl, or actually through my friend who is a friend of Sherryl. But Sherryl contacted me directly, and told me to get involved with SCARF. I wanted to get some connections in Wollongong, because I didn’t know anyone here.

SCARF is like a link, it connects you to other organizations and services.

scarf refugee week evening wollongong bear hunt photography

What is the Let’s Lead program? What has been a part of the program taught you so far?

DESIRE: Let’s Lead is a program that unites every background, especially refugees, that learn how to be a leader with skills and knowledge.

We do activities that demonstrate all the skills that Cameron (the program mediator) will talk about. What I’ve got out of this program so far is that, it’s not about what you know, it’s about communicating and sharing ideas and being innovative.

Just because you’re a leader or you’ve been assigned to be a leader for something, doesn’t mean you should lead by yourself, by your opinions, by your knowing, it’s about collaboration, it’s about working together, it’s about knowing that if someone has a voice they have an opinion that they can contribute to in order to achieve the goal that you’re trying to achieve.


What is something that other people could stand to learn from you, because of your past experiences?

DESIRE: I always know that there is a better tomorrow. Today may be bad, but there are always good things in the future. If you know the reality of this world, that the world has ups and down, and that everyone in this world – no matter how rich you are, no matter how successful your family is, no matter how educated you are – life has ups and downs.


How did you discover or realise that?

DESIRE: When you have trouble, when you’re going through some hardships, always know that someone out there is going through hardships that are triple what you are going through.

I know it’s hard to imagine in that moment, when you’re going through hardships, but if you think carefully, if you think clearly, then you know it’s not just you going through these things in the world, there are other people going though it.

It’s the reality of the world. It’s hard, it’s not easy imagining that in your head and getting over it, it’s a process. It’s not easy for everyone, and I can’t blame anyone who’s not capable of overcoming things easy, because we are all different. We are all human beings, but we are all different.

So that’s why [since] everyone is different so we should strengthen each other, and advise each other and give each other inspirational words to help our friends, our relatives, our whoever – strangers – to overcome things they may face in the future.

So if you know that, that it happens to everyone, then you can use that to overcome things that you encounter in life.

ELIE: My name is Elie, I’m still new here in Australia, I just came recently, in March. So I just spent about 3 months here.

I got involved in SCARF though my friend Des, we’re from the same background, and same language. When he came to Australia then I was living in Uganda, so he left Uganda to come to Australia in 2010 and I was in Uganda in 2010, but I was also able to come to Australia this year. I’m happy to be here, and I’ve met so many people like Celeste here and Zeinab.

Currently, I have not started school yet, but I am looking to join Uni or Uni College, it will depend on what will benefit me. I’m hopeful in the coming semester I will be able to join. I’m living with my mum and dad, my little sister and two young brothers. We are enjoying the life in Australia.

I was born in Congo, but we were refugees in Uganda.

scarf refugee week evening wollongong bear hunt photography

Elie speaking at the Refugee Week evening at Wollongong Town Hall

What has been a part of the Let’s Lead program taught you so far?

ELIE: Much in life, even though you come from a different background or from a refugee background, you have to know that you also have a voice, and you know how to conduct yourself, you also have that capability of becoming a leader.

It’s not about that we’re here, maybe we are from different places, but we know that at least you can be able to lead. If someone is doing wrong, you have to know that you can tell them that this and this is not right, you better do this. I really like it so much.


What is something that other people could stand to learn from you, because of your past experiences?

ELIE: Try to be satisfied with the little which you have in life …because, if you try to pull out what someone has and you want it for yourself, you may end up getting hurt.

So the only thing you have to do is to try and forget. There is a better tomorrow. I always try to get satisfied with the little that I have. Not trying to rush for something, you don’t know what that person went through to get that thing. You have to work for it, to earn it.”


Celeste has not come from a refugee background, but has become a close friend of many of the individuals in the former refugee community through her engagement with SCARF and the Befriending and Let’s Lead programs.

CELESTE: My name is Celeste. I’m originally from Leeton, NSW, which is about 5.5 hour drive west southwest of here.

I moved here about 4 years ago and I had a bit of a study change. I started somehow in Commerce with a Diploma of Travel and Tourism Management. But now I’m right where I need to be doing a degree in Social Work and loving it. I’m in 3rd year.

I got involved with SCARF about a year ago, if not maybe 9 months ago. I heard about it from a few friends and I thought that’s awesome, that’s something I really want to do, and then I’ve been involved with the Youth Program and the Befriending Program, and I’m loving it,

I’ve made some amazing friendships and friendships with people that are just so wise, have so much to offer, so many great perspectives. I think it’s so important to have diverse friendships because they teach you so much.

scarf refugee week evening wollongong bear hunt photography

Celeste speaking at the Refugee Week evening at Wollongong Town Hall

What is something that other people could stand to learn from you, because of your past experiences?

CELESTE: To keep an open mind- I think that’s important with anything. Another thing is probably perspective – you are one person in this humongous galaxy and sometimes you might think that the world is on your shoulders, but it’s actually not, and that’s okay, there are other people that feel that way too.

ZEINAB: I’m Zeinab, from Iran. My mum and dad are from Afghanistan, but I was born in Iran. I go to Five Islands Secondary Collage. I’m doing my year 12 HSC course and I’m planning to be a chef in the Air Force. I got interested in food and I think that’s something I can do. I want to travel around.


What is something that other people could stand to learn from you, because of your past experiences?

ZEINAB: I’m going to get a tattoo, and it’s the sign of the birds, and underneath it’s “Let it Be” and it’s kind of special because I think, if you go through hard times, sometimes you have to let it go to see what’s going to happen next. You can’t just hold onto it and say, “This has to happen,” because probably it wouldn’t happen, it would turn out to be wrong. So I’m getting that on my wrist.

It’s kind of a freedom as well, because back in my country, you can’t be who you want. You have to follow what they say. Whereas here, you can be who you want or do what you want to do, no one cares, as long as it’s you and not hurting anyone.

What I like the most about it is, I have freedom in here [signals to her heart], I know what I want for my future, and my family supports me on it as well, they don’t force me not to do stuff.

Desire, Elie, Celeste and Zeinab are the people featured in this essay. A heartfelt thanks is owed to them for sharing themselves and their stories for this project. 
SCARF is an Illawarra-based, independent not-for-profit organisation that supports people from refugee backgrounds to navigate the personal and practical challenges of building a new life in Australia. By creating connections and generating opportunities, SCARF helps individuals and families to establish a sense of belonging, experience social and economic inclusion and access the tools for self-empowerment and independence. To get involved or contribute to SCARF, visit here.


To read more stories from The More You Know series, please visit here.

Sarah Pulling of Bear Hunt Photography, SCARF (Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families) and individuals from the SCARF community have collaborated to produce ‘The More You Know’: a series of photo essays featuring individuals from refugee backgrounds from within the SCARF community. Accompanying these photographs are stories told by these people – about their own lives, experiences, the world and everything in between.

‘The More You Know’ was borne out of a desire of Sarah and SCARF to share stories of individuals from refugee backgrounds that represent them as diverse and multi-dimensional people with lives and identities outside of their refugee experience.

While we recognise that it’s impossible to capture the depth and complexity of a person in their totality, we’re hoping to share stories that edge a little closer toward this, and a little further away from narratives that are singular and reductive. Our theory is that by sharing stories that show people in all of their expansive ‘human-ness’, we’re inviting readers to connect in a way that’s authentic and felt. Because when we’re connected, we open ourselves up to empathy, kindness and all the other things that make living exceptional.

Photographer: Sarah Pulling of Bear Hunt Photography