5 minutes with Victoria's 2016 #DiversityHeroes: Nazer Nazir

18 October 2016

Nazer Nazir is someone who has gone above and beyond to support social harmony in Victoria.

Since arriving in Australia as a Hazara Afghan refugee in 2014, he has become a leader and advocate working with Afghan Victorians dedicated to fostering a sense of belonging in his community.

On receiving the Victorian Multicultural Honour Roll at Victoria’s Multicultural Awards for Excellence 2016, Nazer tells us why he loves giving back, how he’s made an impact and what he’s doing to encourage socially cohesive communities.

What do you love about what you do and why do you think it’s important?
I love that I take part in raising public awareness and improving connectedness among the many communities in Victoria. I feel this is my duty to contribute to the development of our country, Australia. Australia is my home and I want this country to be stronger and more united. This is important for me.

What can you share with us about your experience of arriving here as a refugee?
I arrived here with a very young family. My three children were all under five. In addition to taking care of my family and pursuing my education at Melbourne University, I started volunteering with AMES, Red Cross and CBM Australia and making friends among the Afghan community and within the mainstream. My supervisors became my referees in job applications and my friends helped me to get to know Melbourne and other communities better.

In less than a year, five of us – four Afghans and an Aussie – got together and established Afghan Australian Initiative (AII) as a community organisation to work in the areas of culture, education and public awareness. For me, Melbourne has not only been a city but a home, a safe home where I, my family and my kids can live happily study and grow.

What achievements or initiatives of the Afghan Australian Initiative (AAI) are you most proud of and why?
We have had two initiatives that I am very proud of.
The first is the school conferences which we ran together with The Gandhi Experiment: 'World Peace Through Education', which is a Melbourne-based social enterprise. I co-ordinated and facilitated two student conferences, ‘Global Participation - it starts with us!’, in March and July 2016 in Dandenong. These had a particular focus on Afghan youth. Over 90 students and 12 teachers from nine different local schools attended these conferences, which taught how to choose non-violence in a conflict situation and emphasises the idea that ‘change begins with me.’

The second is our ‘Positive Response to Negativity’ workshops. We held three consultative workshops for women, youth, community elders and religious scholars. We sought their views, concerns and ideas about how to tackle cynical and negative behaviours in the community as well as youth disengagement and radicalisation. There was an overwhelmingly positive response from the community at these workshops. We believe the feedback we received from the community will help us, as well as the relevant and interested stakeholders, in designing plans and strategies to help addressing these issues.

These two projects were important because I believe we need to work with our youth to make them more resilient against propaganda and negative messages. The second project was particularly important because I think we need to ask communities how they see things and what they want to change.

What do you think are the biggest issues currently for Victoria’s youth and how can we tackle them?
I think unemployment is the first issue. When we look at Dandenong, which is one of the most diverse multicultural local government areas in Victoria, the rate of unemployment is around 21 per cent compared with the average Melbourne rate of around 6 per cent. We should focus on ways to get multicultural youth into the job force either through private businesses or working as payees.

I think the second issue is a lack of role models and peer support. Peers are very important in our lives and they can influence us greatly. Role models should be encouraged to tell their stories to others and encourage others to do something positive in both their personal and community life.

What are the key issues for bringing new and emerging communities into the mainstream?
I think we need to consider the barriers that stop new and emerging communities from connecting with the mainstream. Most of the people in new and emerging communities lack of basic English, so language skills can be a real barrier, which results in immediate disconnectedness from the mainstream. Someone might be very eager to talk to a person in an established community but can’t, because of their lack of basic English.

The second barrier is culture or a different way of life. Many new arrivals have come from non-individualist societies where people live in large groups and extended families and come together to socialise. While here, ipads and mobile phones are everywhere and make people very busy. People rarely start talking to each other here, even in buses or trains where hundreds of people travel together. For new communities, it is more difficult to start a conversation with them. You do not know what is important for them and what they like. Food, cloth, shopping, holidays all help us to start small talk with each other but when there is no common language we cannot. This has affected the confidence and courage of the new communities.

I think bicultural and bilingual staff in local organisations can be very helpful. These staff who know the culture of both communities and the mainstream can work as a bridge between them. They can easily introduce the culture and services, and people can come to them with full confidence and also share with their views, concerns and suggestions with staff.

What services does your organisation provide that you think are the most important to the community and why?
I think our school conference is very important. We bring together students from mainstream and new communities and let them express themselves and understand each other. Some youth have been raised in Australia and have had comparably privileged lives, while others may have come from war zones having never even experienced safety. Mutual understanding and respect is very important; we consider these in our conferences. Our main aim is to see our youth grow cohesively and set their goals for a better future.

Pictured: Nazer Nazire during AAI's workshop with Afghan community leaders in April 2016.

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