Series 1, Episode 9

Assefa and Heather

Assefa and Heather

Assefa was born to a poor farming family in a remote region of Ethiopia to parents of an arranged marriage. His mother ran away from the farm when Assefa was two years old and he was raised by his father and grandmother. When he was 13 when his mother returned to the country and took Assefa back with her to the city.

Realising that education was his ticket to a better life, Assefa applied for a scholarship to a Greek University and, to his great surprise, was successful. At 22 years old, he moved from Ethiopia to Greece where he studied mining and metallurgical engineering. To his delight, one of Assefa’s long time Ethiopian female friends migrated to Greece to study nursing a year later. They fell in love in their new environment and married shortly after.

Assefa and his wife wanted to return to Ethiopia with their family but were warned against it due to the ongoing war. A family friend suggested he consider Australia so applied for an engineering job and was again successful. He fully expected Australia to be a homogenous white nation with a single way of life, but was comforted and elated to find that it was so multicultural.

He now works as a multicultural community liaison officer at a police station, building bridges between local migrant communities and the police. He says migrants sometimes have wrong perceptions about police activities due to some bad experience in their home countries. It takes a lot of work to change this perception of police and build respect between the two parties.

He lives in a very multicultural street but says he is “hurt” by the lack of community spirit in his suburb. He has always sought to bring his neighbourhood together, and hopes that through meeting his neighbours they can start building the foundations of the community.

Heather was an adventurous young backpacker when she met her late husband Neil. Their first date was spent hang-gliding, and three years later they scaled Mount Kilimanjaro on their honeymoon. Both Heather and her husband gave up their successful corporate careers to follow their passions. Heather set up and became the CEO of the Sydney Foundation, a charity that raises money and distributes it between many worthy charities and causes.

Neil had been flying for seven years when he took their only child, four year old Kallen for a ride in his glider. Tragically, the flight ended with both Neil and Kallen losing their lives in a horrific crash.

Heather lost her “whole world” but continued on. With the help of counselling she began to move forward. Channelling all her energy into her charities and her physical activities - triathlons and marathons - Heather began to rebuild her life. She set up a foundation in honour of her husband and son and continues to serve on the board of the the Sydney Foundation.

Heather met her current husband Kelvyn through her running group. Unable to conceive a child herself, Heather found an egg donor in the US and as a result the couple now have twin daughters.

Heather is interested in meeting her neighbours and sharing her story to help others cope with tragedy and to give them the courage to get through their own problems.

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