I was only 6 months old when my dad got killed in the war, so I don’t have any memories of him. Mum was always the only person providing for us. She worked in the daytime as a midwife, and at night in the emergency department helping people who had been hurt by the bombs. Sometimes there was nobody to take care of me so she had to take me with her to the hospital, and I saw a lot of people who had been badly injured.
One day, a helicopter dropped a bomb in front of our house. There was a big bang and suddenly all the windows were shattered, and I stood there not knowing what to do. I still remember all of this – it flashes, and all the memories come back.
Then the Taliban came, and our life changed overnight. One day, my mum came home and said she had to wear a burkha. The next day they announced no female doctors or nurses were allowed to work. My sister and I were no longer allowed to go to school, and we could not leave the house unless a male was accompanying us, as you could be killed. It was very difficult for a house full of women. My grandfather was very old and he could walk with us but would not have been able to protect us. It was a desperate situation for us, and eventually we decided to leave the country. At that time I was 10.
We took a bus to go to the border of Pakistan: me, my sister, my mum, my grandfather, my aunty and her daughter. The Taliban had banned TV, books, music and even photos, so I was hiding a photo album I was carrying with some photos of my dad in the pocket of my burkha, and I felt so nervous. Then a little boy came on to the bus who had to physically touch you to check what you had on you. As soon as I saw him checking my mum, I pulled out the album and slid it under my sister’s seat and got her to stand up so he wouldn’t be able to see it. Luckily he didn’t notice, and we still have those photos now.
We stayed in Pakistan for 4 years. There was no work for my mother there, so we relied on the money my aunty in Australia sent us. Finally, she was able to sponsor us to come to Australia as refugees.
We went to live in Auburn in Sydney. I was 15 at that time, and it was hard to adjust at first. Everything was new. I missed my grandfather and my cousin, and I didn’t speak much English. I had also missed many years of school due to the war, and making friends was hard. I was quite shy. I was even nervous about going to the shops to say something in English but I had to. And day by day I grew more confident. In the end, I scored 79 on the HSC. I was still not very happy with it but I suppose I did well really considering everything.
I married at 19 and had my first daughter when I was 20, followed by two more. But I was eventually able to study online. First I did a Diploma in Computer Science, then I did a Diploma in Community Services and Counselling, and I am now in my second year of a Bachelor of Social Work. I also started working. My first job was as a women’s project officer, and I then found work as a bilingual support worker. Next, I worked as an Afghan youth officer and I now work as a cultural support worker with Afghan women who are experiencing domestic violence. It really disappoints me to see how these women have to suffer in a country like Australia, after leaving their country in search for peace and freedom. I try to be there for them not only culturally, but also emotionally. My big dream is to go back home when my kids are grown up and work with Afghan women there.
Recently, my eldest daughter did a speech at school about my life experience and she got a very good mark and went to the finals for it. I am very happy I can bring some of my stories to show people what it means to be a refugee, and why people have to leave their country.
We don’t want to leave unless there is a good reason.
Photographer: Anne Casey www.facebook.com/silverpepperphotography
Read other inspirational stories in the just released New Humans of Australia Book 2 🙏❤️ www.newhumansofaustralia.org/shop