Refugee Week: stories of resilience, hope and transformation

Students from Armidale Secondary College’s Intensive English Centre share their stories as part of Refugee Week.

Five students in uniform standing in front of a fence with a sign on it. Five students in uniform standing in front of a fence with a sign on it.
Image: Armidale Secondary College Intensive English Centre students and Yazidi refugees Shiyander Yousif, Viyan Halo, Haval Halo, Sonia Ano and Zinah Khaleel.

Tucked into the grounds of Armidale Secondary College is a place supporting migrant, refugee and international students with intensive English classes and settlement support.

The Armidale Intensive English Centre (IEC) aims to transition students to mainstream school by making the high school curriculum accessible, while opening pathways and opportunities.

Armidale IEC supports a large number of Yazidi refugees who fled northern Iraq and are now settling into Australian classrooms and culture.

The Yazidi who settled in Armidale are now aspiring to become engineers and dancers, have seen the beach for the first time, and one student even hopes to own a sausage dog!

Why did you leave your home country?

Haval Halo: I left Iraq because there was a war and some government issues and most of the population were fighting each other. There are lots of cultures in Iraq and they often disagree. In Iraq I had no dreams and the students in Iraq did not learn anything.

Viyan Halo: I left Iraq because there was too much fear and it wasn't safe. It was very dangerous because there were many problems between the different cultures. They were always fighting and we were at risk.

Zinah Khalaf and Sonia Ano: We left Iraq because there was war and our cities, Sinjar and Bashiqa, were destroyed. We lost our people and homes and there were no schools anymore, so there was no future for us there.

What things surprised you about Australia?

Haval Halo: The thing that surprised me in Australia is education. In Australia, there are amazing schools and the teachers clarify the lesson really carefully. In Iraq, in each class there were about 40 students. It was very noisy and the teacher would shout a lot.

Shiyandar Yousif: One thing that surprised me was dogs. In Iraq, dogs run wild in the street and were dangerous. Farmers used them to look after their sheep. In Australia, lots of people have dogs that live in their house as a pet. I would like to have a sausage dog one day.

Viyan Halo: There are many things that surprise me about Australia. One of them is the education system. It is very different. In Iraq, you don't have many choices for your future. For example, you can't be a police officer if you're under 160cm tall. But in Australia, you can be what you want to be. It doesn't matter what your height.

Zinah Khalaf: The thing that surprised us the most about Australia is that there are lots of insects and the time is different. The weather changes very fast and there are lots of snakes.

How different is your new classroom to the one in your home country?

Haval Halo: In Iraq, schools the lessons were hard and we were often tired and exhausted because the rest was five minutes. I also had to study at school in Arabic, which is not my native language. Some teachers taught in Kurdish, and that was really difficult to understand.

Shiyandar Yousif: School is very different in Australia. In Iraq, if you are naughty or don’t know the answer, then the teacher gets a big ruler and hits you on your knuckles or the palm of your hand.

Viyan Halo: The safety is different. In Iraq, when we went on picnics or somewhere we weren't safe, and we didn't have protection.

Zinah Khalaf and Sonia Ano: Iraq schools were very different from Australian schools because the time was different. In Iraq, school starts at 7am and finish at 12pm and in Australia, school starts at 8.53am and finishes at 3.10pm. In Australia, every school has their own school uniform, but in Iraq all schools have the same uniform. The rules in Iraq schools were that accessories were prohibited, and you could not grow your nails or paint them, but in Australian schools you can.

What are your favourite lessons and why?

Haval Halo: My favourite lessons are maths and science. I like maths because I want to be an engineer and I like science because we study geology and biology.

Shiyandar Yousif: I love computers because it is interesting to learn about technology. We didn’t study computers in Iraq. I also like sport. We play lots of different sports like hockey, handball, discus and soccer. We didn’t have much sport in Iraq.

Viyan Halo: My favourite lessons are HSIE and sport. I like them because I want to be a police officer and sport helps to make your body strong and HSIE and PDHPE give me information about laws in Australia.

Zinah Khalaf and Sonia Ano: English, because we love to learn languages, learn about poetry and make poems. Also, art because we love painting and dancing and history because we like to know more about what happened in the past.

What adventures have you been on lately?

Haval Halo: My favourite adventure is when I went to Coffs Harbour with my school friends and went to the beach. We played volleyball and saw a beautiful waterfall. I had never been to the beach before, so it was amazing to see.

Shiyandar Yousif: One of our volunteers took us to a museum in Armidale and to visit the waterfalls. I loved going on the Year 7 camp to Coffs Harbour. l really loved the zip line. l had never been on camp or done a zip line before.

Viyan Halo: I went on a picnic with my friends in Coffs Harbour. We went to the beach. It was wonderful. We played volleyball and some different games. We had a delicious lunch. We enjoyed ourselves there. I had never been to the beach before. We felt safe and happy.

Zinah Khalaf and Sonia Ano: Our favourite adventure was when we went to TAFE from the school, and we learned about lots of courses that TAFE have. That helped us to choose what we want to do for our future.

What do you hope to be in the future?

Haval Halo: In Iraq, I don’t think I had a dream about my future. There was less choice of jobs. Also, because there was so much fighting, I didn’t know what my future might look like. My hopes and dreams now are to be an engineer and buy a car and a house.

Shiyandar Yousif: In Iraq, l thought l would work in a shop and just have a family. Now there are more options for jobs. I don't know what I want to do, but it is exciting to have so many choices.

Viyan Halo: I hope I go to mainstream school and study there. My dream is to be a police officer. When I was in Iraq, I wanted to be a police officer but it was difficult. You have many choices for the future. You can be anything you want to be here.

Zinah Khalaf: When I was in Iraq my dream was to be an engineer, but now it’s different. I want to study for my future and practise my favourite skills: music and dance.

Sonia Ano: When I was in Iraq my dream was to go to Australia. My dream came true. Now, my dream is to be a dentist or dancer.

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