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Refugee Dhafer finds most meaningful work helping others

By Fiona West | June 2, 2022

Dhafer Shano has more than 20 years’ experience repairing electrical items in his home town of Baghdad. But today in the Western Sydney suburb of Fairfield, it is the welfare of fellow migrants being carefully tended to by the 56-year-old Chaldean refugee.

Dhafer arrived in Australia with his wife and son in 2017, having originally fled Baghdad for Mosul in 2014, then being forced out from the Iraqi city to Turkey, when it was seized by ISIS.

Helped initially by Settlement Services International, then CORE Community Services, Dhafer’s teenage son started school while he and his wife enrolled in the AMEP at Navitas Skilled Futures.

“I started studying at Navitas, that helped me to improve my English, to engage with others. I wanted to get a job and help the community,” Dhafer said.

Despite his technical qualifications and expertise – owning his own workshop in Baghdad where he fixed electrical items like televisions and stereos – he was unable to find similar work in Sydney: “Everyone wants a 20 year old!”

But with a strong community spirit, Dhafer set about looking for other opportunities where he could make a welcome contribution to society, starting at Navitas, where he was an active student, advocating for others as a member of the SRC.

Navitas Skilled Futures Stakeholder Engagement Manager Basim Shamaon said Dhafer became known to staff and fellow students as someone who “always put his hand up” to help at college, or for volunteering opportunities in the community.

“Dhafer is a very good person with a very good heart,” Basim said.

“He wanted to help new arrivals in the country and help make a difference for them. I’ve seen him at local community meetings and I know he wants to set a good example, not just to the Chaldean and Iraq community, but to everyone.” 

Dhafer found regular voluntary work at CORE Community Services, working in office administration, which also helped him improve his English. And he now works as a male mentor as part of CORE’s First Step program, for new arrivals who need a man to talk to in their own language to help with settlement issues, understanding new laws and culture and addressing mental health.

“For this I speak in Chaldean and Arabic,” Dhafer said. “Most of the men are aged between 50 and 70. I talk to them and give them information and tell them how to deal with, for example, shops, public transport, electricity bills…

“I like it very much. Spending time with these men and helping them, it gives you experience and it gives you self-confidence. It is not easy for these men with a language barrier and it is not easy to find a job. And there are mental health issues. It is good for me to talk to them because I understand what it is like.” 

Dhafer said he will continue to help the community as long as he can to “pay back Australia and say thanks”.

“When my family was in Turkey and we applied our papers to Australia as refugees, after three years – thank God and the Australian Government – we arrived here. And then a new life just started for all of us.

“Australia is a beautiful country, with nice people. I do wish to say thank you and pay back because they helped me so much.” 

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