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Mentoring to create a more cohesive and multicultural Australia

Faeeza Jawaid Source: SBS

Mentors can help in creating a more accepting and integrated Australia.

After migrating to Australia at age 13, Pakistani-born Faeeza Jawaid knows the difficulties of being a teenage girl in a new country, speaking a new language and feeling different.

Now a community project officer in Melbourne, Ms Jawaid devotes her free time to mentoring young girls dealing with similar challenges.

Still in school uniform, teenage girls file onto the basketball court at the North Melbourne Football Club, a few running and grabbing the balls and beginning to shoot baskets.

But shyness gets the better of some.

Standing amongst them, Faeeza Jawaid stands out, confident and self-assured, but she insists she, too, was once a timid Muslim teenager.

"High-school years were a little bit tough for me, in terms of being teased, being different, adapting to a different culture in a different country."

Migrating from Pakistan at 13 years old, Ms Jawaid navigated a difficult path through an Australian high school while maintaining a Pakistani culture at home.

Now volunteering as a mentor, she is ensuring other girls do not walk that path alone.

"They need to walk their parents' culture, and then they're trying to also form an Australian identity, so merging the two can be difficult."

A community project officer with a science degree, Ms Jawaid spends her free time at The Huddle, at the North Melbourne Football Club.

For the last six years, it has been a base for youths from migrant and refugee backgrounds to learn, workshop and engage in a range of activities.

The Huddle's Cameron McLeod says the program has benefited both the community and the football club.

"We've engaged 50,000 young people during that time. We're helping them learn, grow and belong, and, at the same time, they're also sharing their experiences, and, yeah, we're better for it."

He says, through mentors like Ms Jawaid, the young Muslim girls attending The Huddle are given an example of what is possible.  

"She's been able to show to them how she's overcome some of the challenges that perhaps have been placed upon her because of her culture, because of her religion, because, perhaps, she's a woman."

Those challenges are challenges many of the girls face every day.

Nawal Hersi is a mentee of Ms Jawaid and is now, herself, becoming a mentor to others at The Huddle.

She says, when anti-Muslim sentiment surfaces, a mentor can help keep things in perspective.

"They can do and be whatever they aspire to be. They've got no limitations. Just because there's one bad person on a tram, that doesn't mean there's a hundred other bad people."

Running physical activities at the Active Girls program at The Huddle, Faeeza Jawaid says she builds relationships with the girls who attend every week.

She says, although it is an informal method of mentoring, it has allowed her to be the friend and adviser she wishes she had growing up.

"You get to know them over time. They get to open up to you over time. And then you discuss issues. Whether it's through banter or jokes, you still end up discussing issues."

They are discussions she intends to keep going in hopes of creating a more accepting and integrated Australia.

"By seeing a stronger, more socially cohesive, multicultural Australia, I will feel like, yeah, you know, 'I'm happy, I'm happy. This is what I wanted to achieve.'"