Former Afghan refugee Arefa Hassani intended only to find herself when she began advocating for the needs of others.
In speaking up for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, Arefa hoped to rebuild the self-worth and confidence she’d lost amidst the challenges of settling in a new country.
A decade on, the 26-year-old is now recognised nationally as a game-changing leader – and a determined voice – for vulnerable communities.
“I think maybe I’m an accidental leader,’’ says Arefa, who will today speak at the global Women in Leadership Summit in Adelaide.
“I see it more as a sense of responsibility. Very few women in my community are vocal because of the social inhibitions they’ve grown up with.’’
The Summit will bring together some of the nation’s brightest minds to advance women in leadership.
A Pastoral Care Worker at Centacare, Arefa will speak about creative, courageous and collaborative leadership as part of the Emerging Leaders Fireside Chat.
A key theme will be the power of storytelling and conversation in community, government and business.
“Conversations are so powerful,’’ Arefa says. “What better way to develop empathy and understanding of others than through stories and sharing life experiences?’’
Arefa will point to her new fortnightly podcast, Fresh off the Boat.
“It’s a space to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly,’’ she says.
“Adapting to a new society is very, very hard for any community.
“It’s like having a double personality; you have to try and navigate both worlds and sometimes it gets confusing for everyone.
“That can have consequences, so being able to have conversations in a very honest and raw way is really important.’’
Arefa arrived in Adelaide in 2006. Four days later she turned 14. The family settled in Waikerie where her father picked oranges.
“Everything was just so new to me and I didn’t have enough people around me to help me adapt and absorb what was going on, so I dug myself a deep hole.
“It was a long, long journey back out of there but I managed somehow.’’
Through advocacy work in Canberra and Sydney, Arefa says she grew in courage and learned to socialise and make friends.
She began volunteering for Welcoming Australia, set up the English Tea language program for older refugee women, and helped establish the Babar Mazari Foundation, which provides support for victims of violence and the education of children in Afghanistan.
Arefa was this year Nominated for the 2019 SA Young Australian of the Year.