Featured in this photo essay is Yasmin – a Kurdish-Australian woman from Syria living in the Illawarra – in conversation with SCARF volunteers and communications team members, Sarah Pulling & Maddie Burkitt.


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. 🙂

Photograph of Yasmin and her sister Sidrah outside their home in Cringila.


We sat down with Yasmin at her family home in Cringila to get to know her a little. Pictured above is Yasmin (on the right) and her younger sister Sidrah. 


Yasmin is 20 years old and a twin with Nasrin. She is one of 6 children (5 girls and 1 boy). Her and her twin are the eldest, followed by their sisters – Shirian 17, Sidrah 15, and Rahna 11, then their brother Hassan 8.


Yasmin was born in Syria and has been in Australia for almost 4 years. She lives with all her siblings and her mum and dad.

Photograph of Yasmin telling SCARF about her decision to wear a head scarf
Can you tell us about your family?

“We are a really close family… we really love each other and really support each other. 


We talk about everything! We don’t keep secrets from each other. Everyone who sees us, says ‘wow, they are a really nice family!’ Even my mum, we don’t see her as ‘Mum,’ we call her by her name, because she is really close to us. Sometimes we tell her, ‘You are my friend.’ We don’t have lots of friends here.”

What was it like to study in Australia?

“HSC is scary but it’s not that hard, you have to be really passionate about things and of course be confident about yourself. It was difficult to finish… because of the language, but I think we did better than the Australians! It was really good.


My favourite subject is English, and I did really well in that. I came first in my English class. I [also] did Arabic continuers and Arabic extension, and I got first in Arabic extension too! So every time I got a really good mark, that pushed me to keep going.”

How did it compare with studying in Syria?

“In Syria, you can’t choose a subject, they’re all compulsory. We studied about thirteen subjects… when you hold [your school] bag, it’s really heavy!


We [would] study from 7 am to 12 pm. You can choose the morning routine, or the afternoon routine; it’s up to you. Here [the days are] really long, but [there are] less subjects…


There are negatives and positives to school in Australia and school in Syria. In Syria, you have to really study and get a really good mark, because if you don’t get a good mark, you’ll fail and you can’t go to the next year.


Here, you have a lot more freedom, you don’t see lots of people caring about education. If they don’t want to go to school, they don’t.”

Photograph of Yasmin's bedroom with a teddy bear on the bed. There are three beds as she shares the room with her sisters.
Yasmin’s room, which she shares with two of her sisters.
Is there any particular food you miss from Syria?

“There’s no food from Syria that we can’t have here, because my mum can make everything! …when my mum travelled overseas, my dad cooked for us. It was really delicious!


If we can’t find the stuff we need to make something here in Wollongong, we go to Sydney to get it and we make it at home. In Syria we didn’t have to make a lot of things at home. We used to buy desserts and everything. In every street there would be lots of shops… not like here where you have to go to the shopping mall.

This is a sweet Syrian coconut cake Yasmin made – her specialty and delicious!
What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

“Sometimes I send Australian music to my friend overseas, I say ‘it’s really nice, just listen to it, you will not understand, but just listen…’


English music makes me feel comfortable and happy. The Arabic music is really sensitive. It’s all like ‘Oh my God, you broke up with your boyfriend,’ or ‘You want to cry,’ or ‘Someone died…’ [laughs] it’s really sensitive, it makes you really sad.


The Kurdish music makes you really cry straight away, so I don’t always listen to that, but I do sometimes…


I get some English music from my younger sisters. You can feel that they’ve grown up here. They have lots of Australian friends. They know more about Australia than us… and listen to English music more than we do. So sometimes when my sister is listening to music, we’re like, ‘Oh this music is nice, send it to me quick!’”

“In Arabic we have [an artist, called] Fairuz, She’s really famous. People are always listening to her in the morning.


Sometimes before work, you sit on the verandah drinking coffee, listening to her; she makes you really comfortable. People of all ages listen to her… we all listen to her in the morning. When we were at school (in Syria) all the cars would be playing her in the morning.”

This video had over 21.5 million views at the time of publication!


“You are not allowed to speak Kurdish, [in Syria]. But we did still speak it in the family; we couldn’t just forget it. It’s your language, it’s your mother language. The government only uses Arabic, and at school you speak Arabic.


We really want to learn Spanish too… I’ve started learning a little bit… there are a lot of similarities between Arabic and Spanish, because Spain was occupied by Arabic people once upon a time.


I think [learning another language] is really nice, because when you have the knowledge of different languages, you know how some countries are nearly similar, so you will have an idea of other cultures too.”

One of Yasmin’s few possessions from Syria, her French exercise book. She hung onto it in the hope she might learn French again one day; it wasn’t offered at her high school.

“Sometimes I try to convince my mum to go to SCARF “Coffee & Conversations” I say ‘Mum, let’s go! You will improve your speaking.’ But she says, ‘I have to cook, I have to do this.’ I say, ‘just leave it!’ Sometimes all 6 of us children speak English to mum, and she says, ‘too much!’


It’s going to be really hard for them to apply for the Citizenship, because they can’t understand the language. They try to force themselves to learn and push themselves, but they are adults so it’s harder for them, and they have lots of other responsibilities. 


Sometimes mum tells us when she goes to TAFE to learn English she always thinks about us, like ‘What am I going to cook for them? What am I going to do for them? What are they doing at home?’ They can’t just focus on learning English.”


“Sometimes we think about going back to our country, but the war will not stop. It will take ages. We will be grown up. I miss everything about Syria. Everything was nice.


In Australia shops close early. In Syria the shops don’t close at all. Life is going 24 hrs. If you go out at 3 am, you will see people out. It’s not dangerous.


In Australia there’s no-one out at night and it’s really quiet, everything’s green, and we feel scared.


We lived in Damascus, so there were high buildings everywhere. So when you are looking around all you can see are buildings, there were not really trees. So it was really hard when we came to Australia, we thought where are we coming? We’ve come to a village! But now we get used to it. We really feel comfortable here now. But we needed time to get used it.”

Painting by Nasrin in the colours of the Kurdish flag
A painting by Yasmin’s twin, Nasrin. It is painted in the colours of the Kurdish flag.
What do you hope for the future?

“I have a friend, she’s from Iraq, she works for a women’s rights organisation. I’d really like to be in that position. Every time she calls she’d say, ‘Are you going to uni? You have to study law and international studies.” She’d always really convince me with her words.


She’d say, ‘You have the power in you.’ She says we are all waiting for you to come to Iraq to support other women, because there are lots of bad things happening there.


She says, ‘after you get your degree you have to come to Iraq and support other women, because I know you have a pure heart. You want to help everyone.’ It makes me feel really special and inspires me to do something to change the world.

People were saying that Law is too hard for me, that I can’t do it. They were saying you have to be very strong and confident and all of these. They say
‘you have to improve yourself more, because if you’re a lawyer you have to be really strong and your English has to be [of a] really high [level].’ I think… maybe I could do Refugee Law or Human Rights Law.

I think that if you have a passion about anything, you will be really successful.”

"Wearing the [head] scarf is a personal choice. In Islam, you have to wear the scarf, but no one forces you to do that. My family didn't force us. When I arrived in Australia, I wasn't wearing a scarf, actually. But I feel like I'm really in Islam more when I wear my scarf. For me, I really wanted to wear it."
Do you have any special items or sentimental objects that you brought with you from Syria?
“We couldn’t bring anything with us from home. We didn’t have time to pack. When we moved from Damascus to Aleppo, it was like [we were] just going to visit. We couldn’t imagine that we couldn’t come back. We thought we would be there for a week and come back.
The day that we went to go back, the war started. There was bombing and everything. Our neighbours called us and said ‘Don’t come, please don’t come. Because everyone is leaving, so if you want to be safe, stay in Aleppo.’
We just had our clothes, we didn’t prepare anything. Then the war started in Aleppo too, and we moved to Northern Iraq. It was safe a little bit, and then ISIS came there, so we moved to Australia.”
One of the only special possessions Yasmin brought from Syria, a photograph of her and two of her sisters.
The one thing we have from Syria is this picture of me, my twin and my sister. I’m really lucky that we have it.

“Sometimes we get sad because we don’t have any memories, but I have this photo.


My dad, when we were young, had a camera… he loved to take our pictures, always. When we are moving here, when we are sitting here, always he [would] take our pictures.


In this photo my mum tried a lot of times for us to be still for the camera. We gave a copy to our Grandparents that week we moved to Damascus.


Then when we left Damascus and were in Aleppo we took it back again from them.


We usually don’t want to go back to Damascus when we’re in Aleppo, but this time we did. We had a feeling something was going to happen. But we couldn’t [go back]. Everything was destroyed. The doors and windows were broken and everything was stolen. Our neighbours told us [this] before they got out too.”
“When we were in Iraq, we weren’t thinking of coming to Australia at all. If you asked me ‘Where is Australia?’ I would said I dunno, is there a country called Australia?"
“Our aunties tried to convince us to go to Europe, but we thought it was too far away [Laughs]. We thought we’d stay in Iraq because it’s near Syria. And look where we are!
We didn’t look up Australia before we came here. Usually when refugees come to Australia they have a class that teaches them about Australia, they give them information about Australia before they come. Because we were the only family going from Iraq to Australia, they didn’t do that for us. We just knew it was really far away, and lots of sheeps and kangaroos. We were thinking that kangaroos would be in the street!
And we didn’t think about the time difference. When we arrived in Australia all my cousins and aunts were calling my mum and my mum wasn’t answering, because she was sleeping. They asked, ‘why are you showing off now you’re in Australia?’ They couldn’t believe the time difference.
We go to the beach everyday. We don’t always go to the beach part, we sit at the park. We take food always. We feel the beach is more relaxed and nice for us.”
A flower hangs above Yasmin's sister's bed.
“It’s really hard to say where my home is. I really feel like I belong here but of course Syria is more like home, because we have so many memories there. 
Here in Australia you feel like really confident, happy, you have a great opportunity, to study, you are doing everything you like, but over time I am thinking, ‘I wish I could do that in my country.’ It’s really difficult to explain that. Especially when you’ve been through lots of circumstances that are hard.
I can say that Australia is a home and I really mean it, but it will never be your real home like your country. But I feel comfortable in Australia because we are really doing what we like, we are having great opportunities. We do say that if we have the opportunity to go back to Syria, we will. Maybe we do say that, but maybe if it came true we will not be able to live there because we’re used to life in Australia.”


This project is a collaboration between SCARF, Sarah Pulling of Bear Hunt Photography and individuals from the SCARF community. 
Yasmin is the woman featured in this essay. A heartfelt thanks is owed to her for sharing her thoughts and 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 learn more about what SCARF do, visit In a Nutshell.
To read more about Sarah Pulling and Bear Hunt Photography, visit Bear Hunt Photograghy, or to find out about projects she supports through her work as a photographer or how a collaboration like this might happen in the future, visit For the Public Good.
Yasmin with her sisters Nasrin and Sidrah in Wollongong Botanic Gardens. Photo Supplied.