Refugee Week student profile: From darkness to light, art and education: an asylum seeker student’s journey

Parastoo Bahrami can speak three languages, is a talented artist, a mother, and a Western student dedicated to becoming a teacher – she also happens to be an asylum seeker.

At the age of 4, the second year Bachelor of Arts (Pathways to Teaching) student, was forced to flee Afghanistan. Parastoo and her family sought refuge in Indonesia, and it is here that they spent the next 11 years in an Indonesian refugee camp. During their time Parastoo and her family met with financial difficulty. Her family sold Afghan bread from their apartment, and Parastoo had to start school all over again – in a different language, and in a foreign country. While most people would crumble under such hardship, the experience made Parastoo even more passionate about one thing: education.

“When I was in Indonesia, it was really hard for me to access a good education. It was like my education was taken from me when I fled from Afghanistan,” she said.

“Now that I am here in Australia, I am so passionate about learning. This is one of the reasons I have chosen to study teaching – because I truly believe that education can open minds and solve the world’s problems.”

Parstoo’s journey to Western Sydney University wasn’t an easy one however. Despite dreaming of a university education for many years, at the end of year 12 Parastoo found out that Asylum Seeker students in Australia were required by the Australian Government to pay international student fees – triple the amount of domestic student fees. When she heard this, she started to lose hope that she would ever get to university.

“Every single day when I went to high school this nightmare – that I couldn’t access education – was with me 24/7. I often began to cry inside the classroom or during recess or lunch time. I couldn’t fight my depression at all, because at that time all I can see was a darkness,” she said.

“Thankfully, one of my teachers one day told me that the laws may change in Australia and motivated me to continue with my studies. This inspired me to fight off my depression and anxiety and continue to focus on study. While the laws didn’t change, at the end of 2016 a miracle happened.

“This miracle came in the form of an Asylum Seeker Scholarship to Western Sydney University – which is how I am able to study here today.”

In between studying, looking after her 15-month old son Youness, working with the Taste Food Tours – a unique food tours led by local guides, aiming to build cross-cultural understanding – Parastoo also beads. This is a skill she learnt from her mother during her time in Indonesia.

“Beading is like drawing, as it makes my mind busy by focusing on thinking about the beads worlds. This helps me avoid thinking about things I don’t want to, which is good for my mental health and emotional well-being.”

“Through beading I always can see a positive future is ahead for me,” says Parastoo.

Parastoo hopes sharing her story will inspire other people seeking asylum and refugee status.

Parastoo’s beaded creations were recently on show at the Biennale of Sydney as part the Belongings exhibition created by SBS's Digital Creative Labs and using technology developed by Google’s Creative Lab. Her beaded creations are also accessible via her Instagram (the_beads_house).

If you’d like to make a donation to support students like Parastoo, please give to our scholarship fund: westernsydney.edu.au/potentialunlimited(opens in a new window)

Ends

20 June 2018

Media Unit