Cabramatta High School school captain Maryam Sliwa has always been told your nationality is your identity.
“However, I have never had one,” she said.
“My dad is Iraqi and my mum is from Syria. I was born in Syria but I have never had a citizenship because of my father's nationality. I was stateless, not acknowledged by either country.
“After migrating to Australia, four years ago, I was afraid how I would fit into a new country with a new culture and unfamiliar language. After I had left all my relatives and friends behind.”
The 16-year-old shared her story as part of the school’s Refugee Lunch – an open forum for parents and families to come and join their children in a lunch to create a sense of belonging.
It also rewards exceptional refugee student achievements and included speeches from ex-students and a drumming performance. Principal Beth Godwin also presented scholarships to Meghrig Awnjian, Rame Al-Badri and Dina Slewa.
Maryam, who won a scholarship last year, said working in a big company with other successful people has always been her dream.
“I had never thought that one day I would be where I am now. As I lived in Syria my options were limited and my future was threatened,” she said. “My father’s family was against me going to school, since women were thought to be housewives and they were expected to learn how to cook, clean and wash rather than going to school, which was thought of as a useless thing to waste money on. My dad was struggling financially but regardless he did his best to send me to school to get the right education and to make sure that I would have a bright future.
“However, life was not as easy and I later on learned that whether I graduated or not, I would still not be granted the chance to work in an office or another government occupation, because I was stateless. Despite it all, I wanted to show the world that I could be successful.”
The Smithfield resident said she has been working on being a role model for her peers.
“I started from the bottom but I rose up. Once I was in the lowest English classes, while now I'm in the top class,” she said.
I started from the bottom but I rose up.Maryam Sliwa
“I have always wanted to help other new arrivals to settle well in Australia as I know how hard it is to learn a new language and adjust in a very unfamiliar environment. I want them to know it's never too late.”