Oula was living a great life in Syria. She studied a Bachelor of Psychology and a Masters in Special Education in order to pursue her dream of helping people in need. When not working as a psychologist, Oula spent much of her spare time with family and friends. Her life was turned upside down when the war began.
“When the war started, we were able to continue working. But the situation worsened and there was no way to continue living in Damascus. Every day you would see car bombings, shootings and rockets,” Oula said.
“It was too unsafe to keep living in that situation. I had to flee to Homs/Almuzainah to live with my parents. War was still occurring in my village but at least I was with my family”.
“The situation in Almuzainah worsened and I felt I had no other choice but to leave Syria. I moved by myself to Lebanon and it was there I applied for an Australian humanitarian visa”.
In 2014 Oula’s humanitarian visa was granted as part of the Community Proposal Pilot.
“When I received my visa at the Australian Embassy in Beirut I felt numb, I couldn’t cry and I couldn’t laugh. I was sad to leave my country and loved ones behind. I was thinking of the difficulties I may face; starting everything from scratch but at the same time I felt a sense of hope as I’d have a future in a safe country and be able to build my life again,” Oula said.
“It was my first time on a plane travelling to Australia and all of the thoughts in my head were images of kangaroos and the Opera House”.
Oula was greeted at the airport by her sister, brother-in-law and nephew and nieces.
“I hadn’t seen my sister and her husband in many years and I met my nephew and niece for the first time ever. It was a very emotional and special moment with many tears,” Oula said.
“One of my greatest memories when resettling in Australia was having a hot shower for the first time. I spent many years living in the war situation where I lived in constant fear that if I used too much water there wouldn’t be enough for others”.
“When I arrived in Australia I couldn’t speak English and had limited ability to read or write it. It was very important to me to learn and speak English in order to adjust to the Australian society, start my new life and be able to work. I attended the English classes for a couple of months and my first English spoken words were ‘no worries’”.
As Oula’s English improved she was very keen to use her qualifications to help others and contribute to the community which welcomed her.
“I used to work as a psychologist with refugees in Syria. Working with refugees in my home country gave me a great chance to learn a lot from their experiences and how they were able to use their strengths and resilience to adjust and resettle. In Australia I wanted to continue to work with refugees,” Oula said.
“Through my English class contacts I was able to start volunteering in a community kitchen with
Settlement Services International supporting asylum seekers. I then moved into a volunteer Social Worker role supporting newly arrived refugees to resettle into everyday life”.
“While I was studying I was able to improve my English skills and start looking for paid work”.
“I had my first ever interview in Australia (in English) at the
Liverpool Migrant Resource Centre(LMRC). I was very excited to have the opportunity to work for LMRC as they had supported me when I arrived in Australia”.
Oula won the role of Case Worker at LMRC and while she was very happy working there she still had a strong desire to use her psychology qualifications to help others.
“I applied for a position with
Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors(STARTTS) as an Intake Counsellor which I won. In this role I provide individual counselling services for refugees who’ve experienced traumatic events which impacted their mental health and wellbeing,” Oula said.
Chief Executive Officer for STARTTS Jorge Arcohe was very pleased when Oula commenced working with STARTTS.
“Oula is a terrific asset to the organisation as she came to us with both the qualifications and a background that can relate to many of our clients. Her contribution to newly resettled refugees living with the impacts of trauma and torture is vital in allowing them to heal and integrate into society,” said Jorge.
Oula’s hopes and dreams continue in Australia.
“I hope to have my overseas qualifications recognised in Australia and am thinking about applying to do my PhD. I’d also like to fundraise to send money back to Syria to help those who lost limbs in the war and are unable to flee,” Oula said.
Read other refugee stories.