I was eight years old when we migrated to New Zealand from Bangladesh. Unfortunately, at that time medical degrees from non-English speaking countries weren't recognised, so my father couldn't practise. It was hard for him. It wasn’t great for his self-esteem. Eventually, he started to advocate for overseas-trained doctors to get their degrees recognised, and that helped him I think.
In the meantime, he worked as a taxi driver, a fruit picker, and delivered the Herald during the day. My brother and I used to do the paper round as well and deliver advertising brochures on the weekends. I started working from when I was about 10 to help the family with expenses. As children you don’t always realise you are in poverty, but looking back, I see we were.
I was picked on in school a lot. There was no uniform and my mum wasn’t culturally aware of what kids wore to school. I remember once she gave me this matching pair of clothes and I wore them to school only to find out they were pyjamas. I was also overweight and wore glasses. So the bullying was always there.
Finally when I was 12, Dad decided that we would try our luck in Australia. Initially, we lived in a rundown unit block in Liverpool and we were begging our parents to take us back to New Zealand because we just hated it there. But Dad found work as a psychiatrist at a hospital and eventually our financial situation improved. I wasn’t bullied in school so much, and life got better.
Due to my early life, finances were a big deal to me, so after high school I looked at which degrees would pay the most, and decided to do mining engineering. The problem was that I hadn’t done any science subjects, so I didn’t do very well, and after two years of trying, I decided it wasn’t for me. By then I knew that I wouldn’t get career fulfilment out of chasing the dollars. I used to volunteer at a few places, and I was at my happiest with that sort of work. So I decided to do Social Science instead.
Now I’m working in residential houses with teenagers whose foster carers can’t handle their behaviour. I also work at Mission Australia for homeless youth, and for the Top Blokes Foundation, where I go to different schools and mentor high school students.
I copped a bit of flak for choosing the career path that I did, as it’s not highly valued in my community. People would ask, ‘What career will that lead to?’ Since I studied social science and my brother studied criminology, one hurtful thing that an aunty of the community said to my mum was, ‘Your first two sons have failed, make sure your youngest son does something better.’
Despite this, my parents have been supportive and have accepted what I do. I help out with the bills and they know that the work I do is worthwhile. But our community has still got a way to go to be more supportive of their own peers choosing to do something besides being a doctor, an engineer or an accountant. There are a lot more careers out there!
Photographer: Anne Casey www.facebook.com/silverpepperphotography