When Syria's loss is Australia's win
Amany Aloklah's dinner table and life in Australia seems a world away to her origins in war-torn Syria.
Amany Aloklah works for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services as an Administration Assistant with Rural and Regional Health.
© Amany Aloklah
The mother of two lives in Melbourne, and, from time to time, she faces those first-world problems that, in hindsight, seem so unusually and wonderfully banal, such as getting the kids to eat dinner.
“If my kids start complaining, ‘I don’t like that, I don’t want to eat that’, I just mention to them there are children in Syria that are not able to find bread,” she said.
“‘You have to be thankful, grateful and eat whatever I cook for you’.”
Today marks a decade since the Syrian crisis began.
UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi described the situation in Syria as “the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.”
Amany fled Syria with her husband and two children in 2017.
She was among 5.6 million Syrians that have fled since 2011, and less than one percent of refugees, globally, that have accessed resettlement.
“I said to myself, ‘Being a refugee is better than losing one of my kids, my husband or my life.’”
Her journey from running from war to being a health professional on the frontline of Australia’s biggest public health crisis in generations is a story of hope.
Even with extensive professional experience and volunteering abroad, finding employment in Australia proved extremely difficult for Amany and her husband.
She poured her energy into helping her husband find work, while she enrolled to study and support the children as they began school.
Amany never expected she would end up as the bread-winner for her family.
“My husband didn’t speak any English, so I listed my number on his job applications,” she said.
This included an application to join a program run by CareerSeekers New Australian Internship Program, a non-profit organisation supporting humanitarian arrivals into professional employment. CareerSeekers Program Director Carolyn Sykes remembers her first conversation with Amany.
“Amany contacted CareerSeekers originally thinking the program would suit her husband but it ended up being a great fit for her,” Carolyne said.
During that fateful phone call, Amany expressed her passion for community service.
“I said to her, ‘I’m so impressed with the way people helped us when we came here,” Amany said.
“It makes you want to give back.
“She told me she may have an opportunity.”
By June 2019 Amany joined the program, undertook work readiness training and was matched to an internship with Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
Amany impressed during her internship and her employment continues today, now as an Administration Assistant with Rural and Regional Health.
An opportunity for community service came during Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, which was one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.
Amany heard about the impacts of the lockdown for people with refugee and migrant backgrounds who struggled with government paperwork because of language barriers.
She immediately volunteered on weekends to help.
Amany’s skills were used to assist children in need of protection.
With child protection practitioners, Amany helped families understand essential paperwork.
Alysha Murphy, a former supervisor of Amany said she had only admiration for the mother of two’s willingness to help others.
“To anyone who finds themselves in a position where they receive an application from someone like Amany, a refugee, take the time to meet them, provide the opportunity to hear what they may be able to bring to the role and what they want to achieve,” Alysha said.
“There's so much more to a person than what is written down on paper.”
Amany describes her community work and current role with the Victorian Government as a dream come true.
“I’m the luckiest refugee in the world,” she said.