Reflecting on my life

Refugee to fashion designer
October 24, 2019
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November 12, 2019

Reflecting on my life


My background

I was born in Africa. I came to Australia 14 years ago as an international student to study as a nurse, but along the way I realised nursing wasn’t for me. So I changed and pursued a degree in Health Science with a major in occupational health and safety and health promotion.

About five years ago I got a job at Ishar in health promotions. When I started working here I was married and was going through some personal problems in an abusive relationship.

In my job as a health promotions officer I worked alongside a counsellor in a new program for women experiencing domestic violence. In one of the group sessions one of the women was sharing her experiences with the group … and as I was sitting there I thought I was in another place. I just couldn’t control my emotions and I broke down. My emotions were triggered and I lost it. I was feeling very vulnerable and just felt like I had to let it out there.

Even though help was offered to me I didn’t want to share the experience I was having at home and I went into a survival mode of numbing my pain by not talking about it. The counsellor understood that I might not be comfortable talking to her about my problems, but she let me know that she was there if I wanted to talk. Gradually, with time I did start those conversations.

Reflecting and learning to appreciate myself

One of my strengths was being able to reflect on my situation. I started thinking about my life when I was younger … how I saw myself before meeting my husband, and the hopes and dreams I had when I was younger. That made me start the learning to appreciate and love myself again.

I had the most beautiful grandparents ever. I used to look at their relationship.

My grandparents were very religious. They got married in their twenties and had thirteen children. My mother was the first child and I was their first grandchild. We had such a special relationship. I would look at my grandad and how he respected my grandmother and the love he just showed her. All the time I’ve never heard my granddad and grandmother argue and they were married for fifty years.

It was my dream to follow them and have a loving and respectful family … but not to have 13 children. I would always wish my husband to love and respect me the way my granddad respected my grandmother.

I knew I had done it wrong

I’m from a very loving family. We love each other and we’re very close so that also gave me strength. So for me to be in a very dysfunctional kind of relationship, I knew I had done it wrong. I’d chosen the wrong person should I say. That was bugging me.

Unfortunately, I have no family here in Australia. My brothers are in Europe and my mother is in Africa. I came here with my brother but my brother left.

During my bad time, despite the distance my mum was on the phone constantly. She is my best friend. We tell each other everything and she was very supportive. When I think of her my heart breaks, but I make sure I visit her as often as I can and we talk on the phone every day, I open up to her – my mother was the first person I opened up to and she was very supportive.

In everything I do my mother is my rock, as well as my many aunties.

My brothers knew and yes they were supportive and upset, but you know you cannot talk with men.

My culture and faith

Generally in African culture, marriage was something that was looked up to and the ultimate thing for a woman. In my mother’s generation a woman had to keep the household; something I don’t believe. Women are told not to tell their business. The woman is the protector of the relationship and what happens behind closed doors stays there. You do not embarrass your husband in front of other people.

I’m a Christian within a very strong belief. Our faith is very supportive even here, when I told my religious leaders about my situation they supported me.

Agency support

My main support came from Ishar and the police… I remember calling police and when they came to the door they were very supportive.

The most important things about of the support I got were:

  • It was non-judgemental … those providing support did not judge me and made me feel comfortable to share my story. My counselor never questioned why I never sought help despite the kinds of abuse I was experiencing or why I was still with my partner.
  • Being believed …I was told “it’s your story” and for me it was a relief that she believed me. When I told the CEO about going to the doctor and he commented that he couldn’t see the bruises, the CEO replied: “It doesn’t take a leg to be broken. I believe you”.
  • A safe environment. … Ishar provides a safe and comfortable environment to enable women to share their experiences and learn from one another..
  • An inclusive place … Even though I was a staff member that didn’t stop the help. They did not say there was a conflict of interest. The main thing was that as a woman, I was OK … as a woman from a migrant background they provided me with the help that I needed.

As a workplace

As a staff member I was also told if I had times when I don’t feel up to it, when I feel very sad, that I can take time off and I can work flexibly to make up time. They were very flexible about my situation.

Working here I have learnt the importance of respecting other people. I’ve learnt to not be judgmental and not make assumptions about other people.

Much of my strength to deal with my situation came from the women who were experiencing violence. I was looking at them and learning from them.

A final message

Reflecting on what happened to me I would tell other women there is help out there and to not judge themselves too harshly. Reach out … there is help out there … there is a workforce just to help women get out of that situation.

A lot of doors are open. None of them are closed like we might think.