The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Speaking up for refugees


Former Afghan refugee Arefa Hassani intended only to find herself when she began advocating for the needs of others.

Comments Print article

In speaking up for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, Arefa hoped to rebuild the self-worth and confidence she’d lost amidst the challenges of settling in a new country.

A decade on, the 27-year-old is now recognised nationally as a game-changing leader – and a determined voice – for vulnerable communities.

“I think maybe I’m an accidental leader,’’ said Arefa. “I see it more as a sense of responsibility. Very few women in my community are vocal because of the social inhibitions they’ve grown up with.’’

Last year Arefa was one of the guest speakers at the global Women in Leadership Summit held in Adelaide. The summit brought together some of the nation’s brightest minds to advance women in leadership.

A Pastoral Care Worker at Centacare, Arefa spoke about creative, courageous and collaborative leadership as part of the Emerging Leaders Fireside Chat. A key theme was the power of storytelling and conversation in community, government and business.

“Conversations are so powerful,’’ Arefa explained. “What better way to develop empathy and understanding of others than through stories and sharing life experiences?’’

Arefa also talks to the wider community through her fortnightly podcast, ‘Fresh off the Boat’.

“It’s a space to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly,’’ she said.

“Adapting to a new society is very, very hard for any community.”

Arefa turned 14 just days after she and her family arrived in Adelaide in 2006. The family settled in Waikerie where her father picked oranges.

“Everything was just so new to me and I didn’t have enough people around me to help me adapt and absorb what was going on, so I dug myself a deep hole.

“It was a long, long journey back out of there but I managed somehow.’’

Through advocacy work in Canberra and Sydney, Arefa said she grew in courage and learned to socialise and make friends.

She began volunteering for Welcoming Australia, set up the English Tea language program for older refugee women, and helped establish the Babar Mazari Foundation, which provides support for victims of violence and the education of children in Afghanistan.

Arefa was nominated for the 2019 SA Young Australian of the Year.


Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

More News stories

Loading next article