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Meet our Refugee Week ambassadors

Media release

June 11, 2021 

They’ve created YouTube music channels, been on major TV shows, won international Karate tournaments and picked up multiple awards for advocacy.

That’s just a few of the achievements among this year’s 10 Refugee Week ambassadors – people from refugee backgrounds who’ve signed up to provide the public face of that celebration, which takes place from June 20-26.

Through the Refugee Council of Australia’s Face-to-Face program, they visit schools, workplaces and other community areas – sharing their stories to promote understanding about refugees, thus promoting unity, harmony and cohesion with other Australians.

George Najarian has raised over $12,000 for refugees, launched two refugee scholarships, volunteered with the Red Cross, educated thousands of Australians about refugees, and undertaken public speaking and refugee advocacy through Face-to-Face – all since arriving in Australia in 2017 with his family as Armenian refugees from Syria.

Known as ‘Ginger George’, he’s also appeared on various TV and radio shows, including SBS’s Go Back To Where You Came From and the ABC’s The Drum – meanwhile continuing tertiary studies and commencing a career in Sydney.

“I’m proud of being a refugee because that shaped me,” George says. “But I don’t want to stay just in the past, because the past has gone and I have a chance to shape the future, help others and contribute to Australia.”

Sarab Shada only arrived in Sydney in 2019 after leaving Iraq some years earlier, and is already a primary school teacher and an English language teacher for adults.

She uses music and her voice to advocate, entertain, and inspire awareness, participating in community-led non-for-profit events such as the El Pueblo Canta concert.

“My sister and I joined the world during the Coronavirus pandemic by starting a YouTube channel and singing from our bedrooms,” Sarab says. “That helped us both find some calm amid the chaos and reconnect with old friends.”

Sarab feels the Face-to-Face program is key to helping non-refugees understand the real experiences of refugees, and says it is also important non-refugees meet refugees and see they are like other Australians – with hopes, dreams and a will to contribute.

Shabnam Safa, who was 15 when her family arrived in Australia as Afghan refugees, has represented Australia at the UN and several other international summits on key social policy issues.

She currently serves on multiple government and community advisory boards.

And when she’s not fighting the good fight for refugees, she’s tussling with opponents at the dojo – she is a national and international Karate champion.

We’d need a whole book to describe the achievements of all the ambassadors, so this handy link will tell you all about them: www.refugeeweek.org.au/ambassadors/

There are also some brief biographies below.

Refugee Week 2021 takes place from June 20-26.

This year’s theme is ‘Unity’. For more information see: www.refugeeweek.org.au

Media enquiries and to arrange interviews with ambassadors: 0488 035 535

Our Ambassadors

Shankar Kasynathan

Shankar is a diversity consultant and community engagement expert, who has presented his work at conferences in the UK, Ireland and Switzerland.

He is also the principal campaigner behind Amnesty International’s My New Neighbour campaign and has served as an adviser to governmental institutions and Members of Cabinet, on diversity and social inclusion strategies.

His life today contrasts starkly with the turmoil his family escaped when they fled Sri Lanka in 1987.

He remembers that soon after arriving in Australia his family relied on church groups for essentials such as food, beds and a dining table, and wants to give back to the nation that helped his family.

Milad Kado

Milad is a medical science graduate from Western Sydney University and is currently studying a Master of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney. He has been in Australia for eight years and is a high achiever, having made the Western Sydney University Dean’s Merit List for both 2020 and 2021. His dream of being a doctor began when he was eight-years-old in Iraq.

But when war started, he thought his dream was gone. His family fled to Syria, but after war broke out there as well, they found themselves in danger again.

They eventually arrived in Australia, where he is finally pursuing his dream career, while also being an Ambassador participating in our Face-to-Face program.

He believes there is always a positive to a situation, “some stuff I had no idea I could do, but I’ve done it – I’ve survived”.

George Najarian

George has been on different TV and radio shows including Go Back To Where You Came From on SBS.

He has also educated thousands of Australians about refugees, raised $12,000-plus for refugees, launched two scholarships for refugees, and volunteers with organisations such as the Red Cross, Settlement Services International and Sydney Alliance.

He is part of the Refugee Council’s Face-to-Face program that aims at building social cohesion and address negative perceptions about refugees and people seeking asylum by having refugees telling their stories to the community.

He and his Armenian family arrived in Australia in 2017, after fleeing their home in war-torn Syria in 2015.

Simon Shahin

It’s amazing Simon finds time for his studies in Electrical Power and Renewable Energy at the University of Technology Sydney.

He has volunteered and collaborated with various organisations regarding youth empowerment, refugee resettlement, and human rights advocacy, both nationally and internationally, often connecting refugees through sport and music, and is in the Refugee Council of Australia’s Face-to-Face program.

Simon and his family left their home in Syria in 2013, amid the explosions, mortar shelling and stray bullets that characterise life in a war zone.

They resettled in Australia in 2015. “I am forever grateful for being granted this priceless chance of resettling in Australia—and for that, I continue to give back,” Simon says.

Samah Shda

Samah and her Assyrian family arrived in Sydney Australia in 2019, after experiencing years of extremism, displacement and uncertainty following the 2003 war in Iraq.

“We really didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Sydney airport, but we were welcomed by so many community members who made us feel truly blessed,” she recalls.

Since arriving, Samah has been involved with refugee resettlement organisations and refugee-led national advocacy networks representing the Iraqi community.

She is a Community Engagement Officer for the Refugee Council of Australia, and currently leads a research project on refugee access to higher education through a higher degree by research at UNSW.

Innocent Karabagega

Innocent is an accomplished 29-year-old father of two and law graduate who has been a delegate for the United Nations Peace Summit of Emerging Leaders.

He is currently working as a Community Services Support officer for Darebin Council, on a project working for Victoria, representing African communities. He is also pursuing a Masters of Politics and Policy at Deakin University.

Innocent was forced to flee his home country of Burundi in 2010 and spent four months travelling on foot trying to find refuge.

After finally making it to Kenya, Innocent spent the next two years in refugee camps, detention centres, hospitals and on the streets, before being granted a second chance at life when the United Nations granted him refugee status and put him on a plane to Australia in 2012.

Dalal Sleiman

Since entering Australia as a refugee from Iraq in 1992, Dalal’s outstanding community service supporting refugees including victims of domestic violence, homeless people, and people with disabilities, has earned her multiple awards.

Accolades she has received include a Refugee Recognition Award and an Excellence Award, both from the Victorian Multicultural Commission, and the City of Whittlesea 2020 Australia Day Access and Inclusion Citizen of the Year.

She has been assisting newly arrived migrant refugees and asylum seekers to resettle in Australia – helping them with the process of being reunited with their families, finding accommodation and financial difficulties.

Dalal also advocates on their behalf while dealing with legal, education employment, and health agencies.

She established the Australian Chaldean Family Welfare and Chaldean Women Association in Victoria.

Lizzy Kuoth

Lizzy says she has been given “a huge opportunity” through her life in Australia.

And she wants to “pay it forward” by helping other refugees overcome challenges to build great lives in Australia and contribute to their communities.

Lizzy arrived in Melbourne in 2005 after fleeing war-torn South Sudan with her grandma and three young brothers, and then getting stuck in Egypt for four years.

She is the Inclusion Capability Officer at the Level Crossings Removal Project and St Francis Xavier College’s Multicultural Officer, while also studying a business degree with a major in economics at Swinburne University.

Lizzy also helps lead a Victorian State Government initiative, the Metropolitan Partnerships program.

Sarab Shada

Sarab is a primary school teacher as well as an English language teacher for adults.

She and her family and resettled in Sydney in 2019 after leaving behind ongoing turmoil in their birthplace, Iraq.

While teaching is her passion, music and singing have been a constant presence.

Sarab and her sister started a YouTube channel during the pandemic – “singing from our bedrooms, an activity that helped us both find some calm amid the chaos and reconnect with old friends”.

She feels her past experiences have empowered her, and she will continue to make her voice heard through education and music to help refugees.

Shabnam Safa

Inspired by her own lived experience, Shabnam is a driven community development practitioner, who is a strong advocate for meaningful community engagement and participation in addressing the complexities of forced migration and refugee resettlement.

She is also a Karate champion – with multiple national and international titles.

Shabnam has founded and led multiple initiatives in Australia and abroad supporting refugees and host communities welcoming them.

She is currently part of a national team at the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI), working to establish a holistic community-led refugee support program in Australia and is the chairperson of the National Refugee-led Advisory and Advocacy Group (NRAAG).

For speaking engagements for these Ambassadors, please contact our Face-to-Face team on facetoface@refugeecouncil.org.au

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