Featured in this photo essay is Azita – an Afghan-Iranian woman living in the Illawarra – in conversation with SCARF Volunteer and Communications Team Member, Sarah Pulling.
Further essays will follow over the coming weeks and months. To read the introduction and background to this series, click here.
As a photo essay, this is best viewed on a desktop or laptop computer.
We sat down to chat at Towradgi beach in Wollongong to talk about family, learning, helping others, and overcoming expectations.
“I came to Australia in 2012. I did university in Iran, but when I came here they told me I have to do a Bachelor. So I went for Nursing for the first year, then thought I would Midwifery as well.
At the moment I am doing volunteer work with SCARF and SES, and I’m a research assistant at the University of Wollongong.
I am just trying to help young people here to have a better life, and not to experience what I experienced when I came here… the problems I had, and questions I had, when I didn’t know where to go or who to ask. I try to help them in that sense, and make them have a better life.“
What kinds of problems did you experience when you first arrived in Australia?
“About studying – because the system here is completely different than the country that I was studying, it took me a lot of time to find the right path and to take it.
Every time I asked advice from a person, they were telling me something else. And, I think they just gave me advice based on what they thought was best for me, not asking my opinion “What do you think? We have all these options, can you choose between them? Which one do you want?” They only gave me what they expected I can achieve, not what I think I can achieve, so there was a big difference between them. They did it with good intentions, but I don’t think it produced a good result for me at the end because I was struggling a lot.
I have problems with English as well, so it was really hard for me to go and read all the information. It took all of my time, and I’m not worried about the time, the stress that I went through was really big at that time for me; I don’t want young people to experience that.
At the same time, the pressure from the community, with many other problems that happen in a new country where there’s new culture, new language, and many people have problems with that. They don’t know how to find the solution to the problem that they are facing. Maybe it’s within their family, or outside of that, in the school; so I’m just trying help them in any way that I can.”
Can you tell me about your family?
“[I have five sisters]: Anna, doing a degree in Pathology, Manda, a degree as Dental Assistant, Angela and Zena twins in Year 12, and Armita in Year 7.
Mum is doing English and TAFE – she loves to learn the language and communicate with other people, so she’s trying her best to do that. She loves shopping, as any other person. She loves learning the language; she does really love that. Part of it is she wasn’t able to study as a kid, due to the war. And I remember she was telling me, her father hired a person to come to the home, like a tutor to teach them things. But when the war warmed up, even that person couldn’t come. So she only finished primary school, but wasn’t able to do anything else.
So that’s why, even for us, she was really keen for us to finish our education, and to study and, even for herself, she tried a lot but she failed. But that was only because of us, because she had to take care of us, and then due to the policy that they had in the country at that time, they didn’t allow anyone from the Afghani background to study, so that was another barrier for her, so she stopped doing it.
What do you hope for your mother in the future?
“I hope for her to just be happy. Because I can’t find any other person in my life that fought that much, and she’s still fighting for many other things that are out there that she wants.
When I’m comparing her to myself, I think, I would have given up many years ago, for many different things, but she’s a warrior. She always goes to get what she wants and it just amazes me, because she doesn’t have the education, nor know many other ways that she could have done it easier, but she never gave up, but was always going and she received what she wanted.
That’s why I can’t get to that point of thinking that I’m like her. I’m really far from what she is; she’s really brave. She’s my hero.”
What is something you have always enjoyed doing throughout your whole life?
“I really enjoy learning, and helping other people.
Well these are the only things that I really learn. And when I was in Iran I was trying to help other students who had dropped out of school, just because of the country’s policy that didn’t allow them to study.
I tried my best not to let them sit still and say “You can’t do anything.” Because I was thinking, every time you are pulled back, like something pulls you back, and the moment you are stopping, then you can be shocked – somewhere really further than what you expected before. So I tried to let them not stop, things are bad, but you can improve, there is always a way, you should make it that way.”
What did you do to help other students in Iran?
“I was a home tutor for about 20-25 students in different age groups – from primary school, to elementary school (secondary/senior), in my country. Because they weren’t allowed to study, I just made a classroom off my house, and I brought all of them to my house and was teaching them at the same time – 25 students – from first grade up to 2nd year of elementary school (Year 9). It was hectic!
In my country, each subject has a book, so they have to go through that book to finish it and be able to go to the next year.
So for example, one day I was telling the first grade dictation, to write on the board, and, I was at the same time teaching mathematics to the other grade and asking another person to memorize what was in their history book, and at the same time! It was really hectic – so if I finish one thing, I have to quickly go to one in the next year. It was only me.”
Why did you choose Midwifery over, say, Teaching?
“I really love the moment someone new is born, and you see that new beginning. I love the fact that I can help a mother in that process at that time. It’s really hard for some of them to go through. Not all people have the same background and same situation, some are single mothers, some have the support of the family, some are living far from their family members, and they have different situations, and this is just a part of the work that has really challenged me – like how to approach people, how to help them, based on their needs. I just love them when they are smiling and saying “That was really good.”
I had not always wanted to do nursing. In the beginning I was planning on going into Medicine, but I thought, I like helping people, so why not Nursing and Midwifery. Now I’m just thinking of doing this. I’m not sure what I will do after midwifery.”
What do you currently enjoy doing in your spare time?
“I really love bush walking, because I was a mountain climber in my country, but you don’t have those kind of mountains here, so I prefer to do bush walking.
I normally go with my friends, so if something happened there is always someone to help, it’s not safe, especially because I’m not really familiar with the environment here and the insects that might be poisonous.”
Is there anything that you feel you’ve learnt in your life that others could benefit from as well?
“I never judge people based on what they can do.
It’s really funny, maybe it’s because it’s a part of my life experience, but everyone has their own limitations, and they know best what their limits are, or how far they can go.
I heard from many, many people in my life “You can’t do ‘this’,” and it wasn’t just because of my ability, but they were looking at, what were the boundaries, what were the things that I wasn’t able to do due to law, etc. and after that they were looking at me as a person and saying “You don’t have the ability to reach that”.
And they didn’t consider one factor, and that’s my willingness. Do I want to pass that barrier? Do I want to reach that goal or not? How much effort do I want to put in for that? They didn’t count that, so they told me “No, you can’t.”
But I reached that point, I passed, and I became …I remember they told me “You can’t get to that point,” But just because I really wanted to go ahead and study- there was a policy where if you don’t get this great mark, you can’t study, and especially for me because I was from a different background- so, they gave me their honest opinion, but they stopped me from trying.
But I thought, “No, I’m going to do it,” even though it might not help me from people’s perspective, I will try my best. And then, if I do fail, I don’t regret that I didn’t try it. So, I tried really hard, it wasn’t easy, it was really hard, but I became the top student in the province… That’s why I try to never judge people by what I think, I will try to give them all the options. I’m not smart, but I tried really hard. I tried hard so I achieved it. So maybe if you try hard you can achieve it as well.”
“People who try to bury you, they did not know that you are a seed.”
Is there anything else you would like to share with the people reading this?
“I would always tell them, to try their best and don’t hear other people who are going to stop you or tell you something negative, it always depends on you.
How do you want to listen to it? Or, how do you want to hear it? Do you want to hear it as encouragement, or as saying you really can’t?
And many times these things happen because they don’t know their abilities, they are too young, or they did not think about that, so they don’t know their own limits. And because other people say you can’t, they don’t want to try, to know their limits and what they can do, what they’re capable of. So, I will always tell them to try.
There are different ways for trying, there is not only one way. Always find a way, and never give up.”