'We're helping them grow': Melbourne mentor inspiring Muslim teens


Pakistani-born Faeeza Jawaid devotes much of her time instilling self-confidence in Muslim girls who are attempting to balance their traditional cultural beliefs and life in their new country.

Having migrated to Australia at the age of 13, Ms Jawaid had to overcome language and cultural barriers.

Now a professional in Melbourne, Ms Jawaid devotes her free time to being a mentor to girls dealing with the same challenges she faced.

Ms Jawaid is a community project officer with a science degree, and she spends time at The Huddle, at the North Melbourne Football Club. 

For the past six years, the Huddle has been a base for youngsters with migrant and refugee backgrounds to learn, workshop and engage in a range of activities.

At a recent Huddle gathering, students ran and grabbed basketballs and began shooting baskets, while others were overcome by shyness. 

Ms Jawaid said she too was once a timid Muslim teen.

"High school years were difficult for me, being teased being different, adapting to a different culture in a different country," she said.

After migrating to Australia, she navigated a difficult path through an Australian high school, while maintaining her Pakistani culture at home.

Faeeza Jawaid at The Huddle NMFC
Faeeza Jawaid at The Huddle NMFC (SBS)

"They need to walk their parents culture and also form an Australian identity, so merging the two can be difficult," she said.

The Huddle's Cameron McLeod said the program had been beneficial to both, the community and the football club.

"We've engaged 50,000 young people during that time," he said.

"We're helping them learn, grow and belong."

Cameron McLeod at The Huddle
Cameron McLeod at The Huddle (SBS)

Through mentors such as Ms Jawaid, he said the young Muslim girls attending The Huddle were given an example of what's possible.

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

Challenges many of these girls face every day.

Under the guidance of Ms Jawaid, Nawal Hersi was now becoming a mentor to others at The Huddle.

She said when anti-Muslim sentiment reared it's ugly head, a mentor can keep things in perspective.

"They can do and be whatever they aspire to be, they've got no limitations," she said.

"Just because there is one bad person on a tram it doesn't mean there is 100 other bad people."

Organising physical activities each week at the Active Girls program at The Huddle, Ms Jawaid said she built relationships with the girls that attend.

She said although it's an informal method of mentoring, it's allowed her to be a friend and adviser - someone she wished she had growing up.

"You get to know them over time, they open up to you over time, and then you discuss issues whether it's through banter or jokes you still end up discussing issues," she said.

Discussions she intended to keep going in the hopes of creating a more accepting and integrated Australia.

"By seeing a more stronger, more socially cohesive multicultural Australia I will feel happy, this is what I want to achieve," she said.

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