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Get to know your neighbour
Old 17th February 2010, 11:21 PM   #1
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Default Get to know your neighbour

NEXT DOOR: One day on the way to school, Ilyasi Siraji walked past a dead body and felt petrified then he got used to it.

“Seeing a corpse on the side of the road, it was like part of my daily life,” the Congo refugee, 21, says.

“At first I felt petrified but then you see it once, twice, three times and it doesn’t matter so much anymore.”

Migrating to Adelaide in 2007, the Salisbury resident has become actively involved in state-wide Rotary activities to forge links with his neighbourhood, make new friends and support other refugees.

He also works as a bilingual support officer at a local school, helping breakdown language barriers for migrants.

Mr Siraji shared his story with the City Messenger this week as part of the paper’s Know Your Neighbour campaign, which aims to wipe out social isolation and bring communities closer together.

“When you go to a new place you’ve left everything behind, it’s just you and your family,” he says.

“But for me, another reason I joined Rotary was to help other migrants because I know what starving feels like, I know what sleeping on cardboard is like.”

Growing up in the war-torn city of Goma with his four siblings, Mr Siraji was about 10 when the Second Congo War began in 1998 and his family persecuted.

With his mother dead, Mr Siraji’s father went missing in the conflict and his sister fled to Uganda, leaving him next in line to care for his three younger siblings.

“When you’re in a war you don’t really know what to expect.

“Some days were calm and we’d go off to school but other days you couldn’t leave the house because of the shooting outside.”

No longer coping as a teen carer, Mr Siraji and his siblings fled to Uganda and were reunited with their sister. The family stayed in a refugee camp but there was “no proper food, no clean water, no future” so they moved to Kampala.

He kept his family alive by working as a petrol pump attendant until they were granted visas to migrate to Australia.

Settling in Adelaide he enrolled in a new arrival course at Thebarton Senior College and was selected to attend the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards.

A year later he founded the Rotaract Club for Global Peace Australia and became its president for a short stint.

He is now preparing to fly to Montreal in June for the International Rotary Youth Leadership Awards a week of networking and leadership seminars. He urged the community to get behind the Know Your Neighbour campaign which, in its second year, will have a strong focus on supporting the city’s new migrants and international students.

“Especially new arrivals, they really need someone to lean on.

“The reality is the world we live in, it’s not what you know it’s who you know so it’s important for migrants to expand their network.”

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