Reledev’s DREAM Project is all about reaching out to young students of refugee backgrounds who have settled in Australia. The challenge of settling in a new country is enormous: foreign language, foreign culture, foreign way of doing ordinary things like going to school, taking public transport, finding friends. DREAM was established to provide peer to peer mentoring for young refugee students in Australia, with the goal of empowering them as future leaders in Australian society.
Reledev caught up with one of our current DREAM volunteers Rida Hanna, a 21 year old, Medicine student who hails from Western Sydney. Rida began volunteering for the DREAM Girls Club program working closely with high school students through fun activities held on the weekend in a supportive and encouraging environment. Rida shares what motivated her to work so closely with refugee students and encourages others to get involved in the program.
How did you hear/get involved with DREAM Project? A few years ago, I met a friend whilst volunteering for the Rural Allied Health and Medical Society (RAHMS) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). The event was centred around teaching high school kids from South West Sydney how to perform simple medical interventions such as plastering. The idea behind it was to encourage students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to follow their aspirations, even difficult ones such as becoming a doctor. I was a textbook example of this – a young girl, born and raised in Bankstown, who since age 12 wanted nothing more to become a doctor. And who at age 21, is currently studying Medicine. At this event, I met someone who has remained a friend ever since! Throughout our friendship, a constant conversation topic has been volunteering. Recently, he reached out to me after seeing me participate in the Ration Challenge and told me about the DREAM Project.
What motivated you to volunteer? The area I live in is largely made up of immigrants to Australia and their Australian-born children, like me. Throughout my life, my privilege to live in Australia has been reiterated. I haven’t ever been to my country of ethnicity, Lebanon, but got close once. My parents had been torturing my siblings and I with the notion of travelling to Lebanon and finally, we had applied for passports and began planning the trip. Until bombings occurred in my parents’ region. And again, I was reminded of my privilege. Growing up during the Arab Civil War, my parents lived in a time when bombings, shootings, and raids were normal. Every recount of their experiences inadvertently reminded and continues to remind me of how trivial so many of my concerns are and how hard it must have been for them to acclimate to Australian life. And so from them, I developed an intrinsic need to help people. This has translated into my pursuit of medicine but also in my desire to volunteer for DREAM. I wanted to help children who had experienced so much and so much more of what my parents had experienced to feel safe and welcome into their new home of Australia.
Tell us a little bit about your role within the DREAM Project. My role within the DREAM Project is complicated to explain. The co-ordinators at DREAM have let me help in so many flexible and unique ways. Due to my busy Medicine timetable, I was given the option of becoming a member of the DREAM Girls Club wherein we plan events to generate opportunities for young refugee girls in Fairfield Council to learn about Australian culture and how it seeks to include all people from all backgrounds, and not silence or minimise. Australia supports diversity and we want these girls to feel welcome within it whilst also developing their own confidence and their friendships with local Australian girls. Within this, I have helped organise events, write grant applications, and also create a training workshop centred around Arab culture and identity.
What have been some highlights of being a volunteer for the DREAM Project? The first Girls Club event! We took the girls to the city, which was the first time for many. Although it was heart-warming to see them all experience the city for the first time, the absolute highlight was hearing what one girl did in her holiday. After attempting to speak my basic Arabic with her, she told me about her experience back home. She had migrated from war-torn Iraq, to war-torn Syria, and then finally to Sydney. She had never experienced a formal education, never learnt to read or write, until coming to Sydney. And despite how great our differences were, I learnt she spends her time off school in the exact same way I do – “sleeping and watching TV”. Beyond anything, it reaffirmed a notion I had always held dear. That is, despite the context in which we are placed in, fundamentally we as humans share more similarities than differences.
What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering for DREAM? Be open and honest with yourself and the co-ordinators as to what your expectations are! They are so accommodating and happy to have you volunteer with whatever timetable is possible for you. Even one event a month is so enriching and helps out the DREAM Project students.
Describe the time commitment to volunteer. How do you find a balance with work and study? You are free to dedicate as much or as little time as you want because again, the co-ordinators of DREAM are very accommodating and understanding of your work and study commitments. Personally, my time commitment varies depending on how much I’ve decided to take on. For example, a normal week could be 0 hours, but a week in which I’ve tasked myself with making a workshop presentation or writing a grant or creating an event could be 10 or more hours in a week! It’s all up to you.
What have you learned about yourself and others since joining DREAM? It feels so good to put your free time towards building something that you know is helping others. I’ve volunteered in the past but these efforts largely went to fundraising. Fundraising is cumulative, meaning that it builds over time and relies on many sources. But you can so instantly see the influence you have on these students, and yet your influence is also cumulative as well! Though we live with our privilege, it can be put to use to aid others who despite being so similar to us intrinsically, were born in less fortunate contexts.
Tell us a bit about some of the experiences mentoring refugee students. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to mentor due to my busy study schedule. However, I have met students during Girls Club events and developing my relationship with them during the events has been so fulfilling, and fun! One girl and I banter over how terrible my Arabic is. We’ve talked about super girly things like skincare and makeup. Again, despite the difference in context, these students are at heart just teenagers with the same interests as us.
What is it like working with the other DREAM volunteers? From the very start, I have felt immensely empowered by the other DREAM volunteers. You can’t help but feel the passion to help others radiate from each of them. They all dedicate what little spare time they have to helping our students feel empowered. And that in turn empowers me to continue to put this passion to good use through volunteering.
Last thoughts on DREAM. Though the aim of DREAM is to empower local refugee students, through participating within the Project I have become more empowered as well. The opportunity to develop friendships with our students and learn of their resilience and perseverance has been priceless. If you are in the position to help, come help our students generate confidence, friendships, and a sense of belonging.
Would you like to volunteer for the DREAM Project? We are accepting applications now. Please fill out an online form to register your interest. https://reledev.org.au/volunteers/