As a child in Iraq, Nahreen Kaae aspired to become an English translator, but due to her circumstances and conflict, she wasn't able to complete her education. Years later, she picked up where she left off after arriving in Australia as a refugee.
Judging by what Assyrian-Australian Nahreen Kaae has achieved since arriving in Australia as a refugee in 2008, it’s safe to say that she’s a very proactive individual.
She tells SBS Assyrian she's always been an ambitious person, a trait that was evident throughout her childhood, academically and in sporting competitions.
She was captain of her primary school, represented the Iraqi governorate of Duhok in track and field events, excelled in public speaking and was a member of her church choir.
- Assyrian-Australian Nahreen Kaae was forced to drop out of school due to family pressures.
- She took up education after arriving in Australia as a refugee in 2008.
- After completing a university degree, she calls on other refugees to take the opportunities that Australia offers.
Growing up in the village of Bersivi in northern Iraq, she says her passion for academia saw her travel long distances to attend high school.
But due to the location of the village, which has an elevation of 675 metres, she experienced difficult terrain and heavy winter snowfalls during her commute to school and often missed classes.
Although her father was determined to do what he could to pay for her schooling and travel, she decided to drop out before finishing high school, after seeing the pressures being placed on her family.
'We couldn't afford to buy meat'
Life changed in 2003 when the US offensive in Iraq began, which came shortly after Mrs Kaae's marriage and the birth of her second son, Ankido.
After the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the subsequent destruction of major infrastructure in Baghdad and other major cities, unemployment rose significantly.
As a result, Mrs Kaae’s husband was unable to secure work as a painter and began driving a taxi cab.
Seeking a better life for their family, the couple left Iraq and made for Turkey, with hopes of reaching the US, Europe or Australia.
“During our stay in Istanbul, we couldn't afford to buy meat, we used to buy sheep bones and cook them in a stew,” she says.
After almost a year in Turkey, they were granted Australian refugee visas and arrived in September 2008.
They set up in the western Sydney suburb of Fairfield, where an opportunity to enrol in an English language class presented itself and Mrs Kaae took it with both hands.
Unlike before, she managed to complete the course and decided to enrol in higher-level English courses.
I used to drop the kids at school, go to three TAFE schools and come back home to look after the family.
She then shifted her focus to completing the Higher School Certificate.
Her grades meant she could enrol in a bachelor's degree in social work at Western Sydney University.
Despite her progression, she admits it was a juggling act balancing her studies and family duties.
"It was a very hard time, I used to come back from the university, cook, clean, put my two boys to sleep at night and then, continue studying until early hours of the morning.”
After four years, she completed the degree in 2018, despite having dropped down to part-time study.
She compensated for missing classes, by enrolling in summer school to catch up on the units she needed.
Mrs Kaae says her husband was her “greatest supporter” during this period, as he stopped working full-time to look after the children while she completed her studies.
She currently works as capacity building facilitator for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
As per her degree supervisor's advice, she’s taking a short break from her studies to focus on her job but is determined to go for her Master’s degree in social research in 2022.
She thanks Australia for making her dream a reality and calls on all newly arrived refugees to take advantage of the educational opportunities available.
"Australia is a great country, it is a country of opportunities and a fair go.
“We have to advance in our lives and be able to work and contribute to the community and repay the generosity that we received from this beautiful country.”