For quite a few years now, we’ve proudly partnered with Brisbane-based organisation HEAL (Home of Expressive Arts and Learning), a program that provides creative arts therapy in schools to young people of refugee backgrounds.
Our annual Songs of Hope & Healing concert – coming up on 7 June – helps raise awareness and much-needed funds for the vital work this organisation does.
We were lucky enough to catch up with the host of this year’s event, Mariam Veiszadeh, an award-winning human rights advocate, lawyer, diversity and inclusion practitioner, contributing author and media commentator, ahead of the concert.
Appointed CEO of Media Diversity Australia in 2021, Mariam is also founder of the Islamophobia Register Australia, and has held multiple board positions including formerly as Co-Chair of Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights and Our Watch.
With many accolades to her name including the Fairfax 2016 Daily Life Woman of the Year, the 2015 Westpac Woman of Influence and Welcoming Australia Life Member Award in 2021, Mariam is renowned for influencing positive change both in the workplace and in society more broadly.
Born in Afghanistan, Mariam came to Australia with her family as a refugee in 1990. She recalls one of her early experiences.
“I remember my wonderful ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher Mrs Brown (whom I later re-connected with and we are now Facebook friends!) who helped me learn English and was incredibly kind to my family and I.”
Fast forward to now and Marian has accomplished so much and is a long time vocal champion for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.
She shares that the best part of her roles as the CEO of Media Diversity Australia, a lawyer and a media commentator is that she gets to do impactful work during business hours in the areas of diversity.
In 2015, Mariam made global headlines as she endured months of cyber bullying for speaking out against bigotry, with Australians responding using the hashtag #IstandwithMariam to rally behind her.
Mariam reflects on this experience saying:
“This was a particularly difficult time for me, the effects of which I’m still feeling today.
“I know people are overwhelmingly generous and supportive and that the abuse I experienced is reflective of only a small cohort of voices on the internet.”
We asked Mariam how everyday Australians can best support people who come here as refugees both in the workplace and in the community.
“Just be conscious that no one chooses to become a refugee - it’s a situation they are forced into. Most people would love to be born into privileged circumstances where they have the luxury of growing up in the country of their birth and origin, in a land where they are accustomed to the language and culture - all of which helps one get a solid start to life.” “No one wants the upheaval that comes with having to leave your home country, so recognise your own privilege and seek to help level the playing field and don’t view others through a deficit lens.”
Asked how she feels about hosting the upcoming Songs of Hope and Healing concert and why people should attend Mariam says:
“I am delighted and honoured to be amongst an incredible line up of Australian talent.
“Come along and support HEAL. You will have an incredible time whilst supporting an incredible cause - couldn’t ask for a better night out!”
We give the last word to HEAL participant Omal who will be speaking on the night. She explains how the program has helped her:
“HEAL has helped me to do new things in life. My therapist helped me to understand and feel more in control of my emotions, to know what is right for me, in my life. I have grown the confidence to be myself and show people who I am. I feel proud of who I am, my culture and my identity. This is me.”
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