Diversity Heroes: where are they now?

20 July 2017

Last year, Afghan community leader Nazer Nazir was placed on the Victorian Multicultural Honour Roll for his outstanding dedication to improving cross-cultural understanding.

After arriving in Australia as a refugee in 2014, Nazer co-founded the Afghan-Australian Initiative, which aims to strengthen Melbourne’s Afghan community and promote understanding, resilience and respect amongst diverse cultures.

With this year’s nominations now open for the Multicultural Honour Roll as part of Victoria’s Multicultural Awards for Excellence 2017, we caught up with Nazer to hear about his latest work, and what winning meant for him.

As a result of being placed on the Multicultural Honour Roll you are receiving a grant to continue running school conferences on peaceful conflict resolution. Tell us a bit about this initiative.

It’s a joint project with a social enterprise called The Gandhi Experiment, and we’ve recently had two conferences at schools in the City of Casey, which is a very multicultural area. The aim is to promote social cohesion, mutual understanding and respect amongst the students. Teenagers are at a time in their lives when everyone wants to be someone, to establish an identity. And that’s fine – we are all unique individuals – but when our truth is different from someone else’s truth, how do we reconcile our truths with non-violence? That’s the main question we want to explore with the students, and the funds from the Multicultural Commission will enable us to deliver more conferences and involve more students.

As well as inviting students to share their own stories, you tell them about your experience as a refugee leaving Afghanistan. What do you hope they take away from hearing your story?

What I try to pass on to the students is that people coming from war zones are not violent. It means that they have escaped from violence, but they have skills and capabilities that they are willing to use to contribute to the development of the society that they live in. I was brought up in a conflict area, lost my dad when I was at a very young age and became a child labourer to feed my family, but nothing stopped me on the path to change.

Also, lots of refugees that have come from conflict zones still have their nears-and-dears trapped in the warzones, in the refugee camps – their brothers, their mothers, their cousins – and if something happens there, that directly impacts the families here. We live in a peaceful country here in Australia, but those who have come from war zones are still impacted, and Aussie students need to understand the things that have happened to their classmates. Without understanding each other, it will be very difficult to build a cohesive society. Our school conferences are titled “Change Begins With Me” and through them we try to promote understanding, peace and social cohesion.

What else has your organisation, the Afghan-Australia Initiative, been working on over the past year?

We applied for a Community Infrastructure Grant towards an Afghan community centre in Dandenong, which is really needed here. This was successful – the Victorian Government offered us $25,000 to do a feasibility study into the possibility. We are in constant contact and consultation with the state and local governments, as well as the community elders, to make the dream of the community members a reality by building this community centre in the near future.

We hear AAI is also working with Dandenong Libraries to create some resources for Hazaragi-speaking children. As a father yourself, why is bilingualism important to you?

I have three kids and they’re very clever, at home they easily switch between languages in a second. When they talk to me, they speak in English, and when they talk to my mum, they speak in Hazaragi. It is important for us to preserve the language they inherited, and I think it is also important for them that they can connect easily with their cousins in Afghanistan, and can contribute to the life of those who are still there. I believe that in the human community, we need to think beyond country borders, and as a global citizen it is very useful to speak more than one language.

Having been in Australia for three years now, what are your main reflections on life here?

There is lots that Australia has given us. I arrived here with hardly any luggage but now we have a good life. My kids are going to school and kindergarten, my wife tries to improve her English, and I myself am working at the Department of Education and also doing my masters at Melbourne Uni. This is huge and we thank Australia for providing these opportunities to us. In return, I will do whatever is in my capacity to contribute to the Australian society, and I will try to raise my kids with this spirit so that when they get old enough, they will give back to the community too.

Nominations for the 2017 Multicultural Awards for Excellence close at midnight, Monday 21 August 2017.

Find out more about the Victorian Multicultural Honour Roll and submit a nomination at multicultural.vic.gov.au.


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